‘Communities are tired of this negative democracy’

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If little else has emerged from the late summer tension in our politics there is the realisation that in spite of the progress that may have been made regarding levels of violence Northern Ireland remains capable of carving a path to old quarrels, crises and impasse.

Maybe we should not be surprised for politics still operate within a process that was part negotiated and part choreographed with important issues left for resolution.

They were difficult at the time and remain so as politicians having failed to transform politics begin to display indications of having reached the limit of their capacity to manage.

Something at the heart of our political process needs to change radically.

A good place to start would be for all politicians of all parties to accept responsibility to act for the whole of the country. This is patently not yet in place otherwise we would not witness over use of Petitions of Concern, about-turns on agreed policies, reference to Trojan horses and attempts to succeed through actions that contradict the ends. In these circumstances resignations cannot help. There is no defence through desertion.

The structures are clearly now recognised as being unfit for purpose but this is due as much to the fact that structures in themselves guarantee nothing unless underpinned by shared human, social and ethical values. Instead politicians seem sensitised only to the needs and concerns of their perceived constituencies. Often it seems that the main function of parties is to run on parallel tracks and de-construct what perceived opponents try to re-construct.

Those governments in London, Dublin and Washington who are guarantors of the Peace Process have also to take responsibility. Their insistence on maintenance of one process at all costs and without review has led to an over emphasis where it becomes risky to try anything else and creates narrow parameters which lead to stalemate and inability in taking decisions when faced by intractable problems. The electorate is left with negative democracy that serves only to frustrate and perplex.

Now we are to have talks yet again but if all that can be shaken is not shaken they will at best yield only limited productivity. We have reached the point where every issue that might cause division must be dealt with. Nothing should be kicked into touch or assigned to a framework or process that merely prolongs resolution. There needs to be an agenda that goes beyond Welfare Reform, constructive ambiguity and paramilitary activity. Within communities there is increasing goodwill and transformation and a desire for solutions and a better future. As politicians begin to talk they might do better to first listen to those communities.