Cllr Jim McVeigh is the leader of the Sinn Féin group on Belfast City Council. He argues here that in sitting on the fence or blaming both parties for the breakdown of Stormont, political journalists and other commentators are doing the public a huge disservice.
Am I the only person enraged by this constant narrative so prevalent in our mainstream media, ‘they’re all useless’ ‘all they do is bicker‘ ‘one side is as bad as the other‘?
Like me have you felt like screaming at the radio or TV and shouting with frustration, not because one party is as bad as the other but because it’s such a lazy and dishonest narrative. A narrative devoid of analysis, of an examination of the facts, of honesty?
The current political crisis was brought to a head by two specific developments, the RHI scandal and the actions of one specific DUP minister Paul Givan when he cancelled a rather small Irish language bursary scheme in an act of spite and pettiness.
One prominent radio and TV host spent weeks picking at the RHI scheme and Arlene Foster’s role in that debacle only subsequently to spend weeks and months winding up the public with a ‘plague on both your houses‘ narrative, and ‘isn’t it a shame that these political parties can’t agree and work together’ narrative?
Great entertainment but very poor journalism.
Of course these coincidentally came at the end of almost a decade of the sporadic goading of SF by the DUP or individual DUP ministers, of disrespect, of agreements delayed or betrayed, the failure to proceed with the Long Kesh Development, the failure to implement an Acht na Gaeilge, a Bill of Rights, and not least of course marriage equality.
Add to this the occasional outbursts of insulting and offensive remarks about Republicans and Nationalists, Muslims, LGBT citizens, and more recently, Irish speakers.
And let’s not forget the DUP’s propensity to want to implement many Tory policies here, policies that damage both communities, welfare reform, privatisation, Brexit, etc. Don’t start me on Brexit and the failure to seriously probe the black money funnelled by the DUP into Britain?!
The real miracle is that SF, a party now composed largely of liberal or radical Republicans and Socialists, did not withdraw from the Executive much earlier.
In addition to all of this, the duplicitous role of the British government itself in failing to implement its commitments, its agreements, legacy structures and inquests, Acht na Gaeilge, investment and the economic peace dividend promised, etc.
Never mind the DUP, the culpability of the British government has been lost or deliberately ignored in this lazy narrative of warring parties, equally to blame for the current crisis.
Whatever happened to analysis? The examination of the facts? Rational conclusions based upon those facts?
The recent comments by the journalist Martin Dillon about the inherent pro-British/Unionist bias within the BBC might give us some clue as to why entertainment media is allowed to pass for investigative journalism.
Is it really too much to ask that more of our media, our journalists, our commentators, examine matters rationally, fairly, speaking truth to power if necessary?
This crisis is not the equal responsibility of the two big parties. This is a crisis fuelled by DUP arrogance, incompetence and who knows, possible corruption.
Real commitments and agreements have been ignored or betrayed by both the British government and the DUP. Agreements documented, spelt out, dated and catalogued!
Not one single agreement or commitment given by SF or Republicans has been reneged upon. God rest him but Martin Mc Guinness pushed himself and other Republicans well beyond their traditional comfort zones in the necessary pursuit of national reconciliation.
Have Unionists or the British government done likewise? Of course not, not by a mile.
The commitment and the promise of equality is much more than just a slogan for Republicans. It is not a cynical political strategy or a negotiating pawn in a cynical political drama.
Many people within the LGBT community, within the Irish language community, among victims groups, the trade unions, human rights activists, have asked us, have pleaded with us, to defend their inalienable right to respect and equal treatment.
Many of the decent liberal Unionists and Protestants who support equality and liberal tolerance are rarely courted by some in the media in the way the ‘plague on both your houses’ brigade are.
We are not willing and cannot trade one set of rights off against another’s. That is not one side of an argument, this is the only rational and moral side of this particular argument.