I think I feel pretty much the same Fionnuala O’Connor does about politics in Northern Ireland (not sure if that is a good sign for either of us ;-)), when she writes…
The centre ground flits in and out of sight, and fashion.
A mirage that only causes frustration, a destination whose possible existence wins kind words from outsiders? In the narrow, over-ploughed north the centre’s dimensions are dubious, occupied over time by comparatively few hardy souls, present-day inhabitants hard to track. No wonder professing to woo it strains parties already on the skids.
The UUP and the SDLP have to hold their core votes and attract the non-voters and floaters that the hardline parties repel, so yes, they need to expand the centre ground. Moderation equals centre has been one assumption; aptly enough the last sudden political collapse was the ramshackle NI2
Not long before the Flag Protests prompted the establishment of that genuinely interesting (if tragically short lived) attempt to cross that middle ground with what looked like it might be a genuinely liberal and cross community project focused on making NI work, I wrote:
…if the middle is the weakest point for an actor in any political drama to adopt it is also the fulcrum around which any political deal must derive. Thus the peace settlement was riven around the dealings of the moderate SDLP and UUP.
Building the strength of those who currently occupy the middle actually misses the point. What’s required is the emergence substantive political actors who are committed not to being in the middle, but who are capable of acting decisively through the middle.
In short we need inveterate deal makers who can do deals that stick and who are obsessed with more than covering up for the failures and misadventures of the past, but are instead committed to enlarging the shadow of the future.
On that point, Fionnuala’s fellow columnist Jarlath Kearney hits the nail on the head for his largely nationalist readership:
…” between the island of Ireland and the island of Britain – of a calibre that may never have existed before now.
Our common failure to consider with maturity, with dignity, with forethought, the critical importance of this relationship is reckless and stupid. It hampers our pathway between the past and the future. Not all Ireland is perfect. Not all Albion is perfidious.
The question is a political one rather than just strictly about the scaffolded institutions. What’s needed it a political leader capable of offering the people of Northern Ireland a new social contract capable of benefitting everyone.
Nothing less than a better place to live, for a new generation of Northern Irish families…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty