A Defining Election by Colm Dore

 

 

The RHI scandal caused this election because it put the spotlight on a politics of superiority which rejects partnership.

Arlene Foster rejected her government partner’s offer of assistance to avoid an election. When the UUP and SDLP demanded Foster’s resignation, Martin McGuinness asked her to temporarily step aside.

At her campaign launch, Foster stated that acceding to requests from Sinn Fein “is not how I do business”.

The DUP has subsequently appeared somewhat isolated in light of cross-community consensus for greater partnership.

That consensus varies, across the parties, in terms of seriousness of intent.

This makes the election a referendum on whether partnership is urgent or aspirational.

It has been described as a rare moment of clarity: an unusually clear choice between progressive and regressive politics.

Arguably, two kinds of politicians are tied to regressive politics.

Some live it. They boast that they refuse to, literally, shake hands with government partners. They say their government partners are like ISIS.

Perhaps others are unwittingly tied to regressive politics, though they deplore it.

They tend to express progressive credentials in negative terms.

Can their parties deliver change?

Their platform consists mostly of criticism of the outgoing Executive parties, conveniently framing them as equivalents.

It takes two for a handshake to be refused, but there is no equivalence.

Some politicians characterise nationalism and unionism as Neanderthal.

Is a deeply divided society best served by dismissing underlying problems, or by addressing and transforming them?

At worst the former approach leaves the messy, uncomfortable, work of partnership to others who can easily be critiqued from the side-line.

Diagnosing problems correctly is a practical matter of readiness for oncoming challenges.

For example, language associated with national identity can be dismissed as hopelessly regressive or redundant.

However, it is at the crux of Brexit questions.

The Belfast Agreement, essentially the constitution of Northern Ireland, recognises that Irish national identity is equal to British identity in these six counties. Thus, for very many here, Brexit was not “a national vote”.

This is not a matter of asserting rights in a “zero-sum” game. Northern Ireland, and its institutions, function best when the rights of all are upheld.

Inclusivity is the logic of the Good Friday Agreement.

If voters do not address these problems tomorrow, will their children have to address them?

Will future power-sharing crises have to be faced if the underlying causes of this one are not remedied?

 

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