Politics and time Warps – By Terry Wright


“ My grandfather was a unionist. My father was a unionist. I was born a unionist and I will die a unionist”

“ I could never support Sinn Fein MPs taking their seats in Westminster. It’s in my DNA.”

If these two statements from current public representatives are indicative of the mind-set that the two main parties bring to the talks during the current impasse at Stormont, then we may solve one problem but the seeds of the next one have already been sown.

Culture, traditions and heritage as exemplified in the debate over Acht na Gaelige are a case in point.

The latest social media and technology may be used to promote culture and cultural identity but when they are linked to binary politics and ancestral voices, it becomes clear that one-dimensional thought and intransigence mixes with modernity.

Unionism and republicanism, in spite of claims to the contrary, are content to appeal to the base and are not yet culturally or denominationally blind. Partiality, as indicated by the public representatives quoted above, is in the blood. The result is a marked deficiency in self-reflection. Agreement is limited by adherence to stagnant conformity and self-exclusion.

Betraying the possibilities of culturally diverse enrichment, cultural warriors, content to promote their own imperative, energise to undermine rivals.

If frustrated in gaining supremacy in a trade-off, the leading parties, bowing to their polarising inclinations, convene to do nothing and retreat to diametrically opposed reference positions.

In an increasingly globalised society they cling to old certainties. Leaders talk of integrity; yet fail to adopt a discursive and transparent approach.

Political manoeuvring and monologues designed to cement communal affiliations masquerade as strategy.

We would be better served by embracing the challenge of creating a framework for dialogue and discussion as a means of gaining deeper understanding of the issues that confront us as a community. Without this, leaders will at best scope a limited agreement. The community will be left with the discarded promise and hope of a stable future.

There will be no apology or remorse but what would be the value? Apology has no point unless the politics and dark history that make it necessary have gone and no longer informs actions.

Instead of pursuing crisis as a political art form, Northern Ireland’s politicians need to respond to the transformative mandate they received in 1998.

We are informed that the DUP and Sinn Fein have been in talks behind closed doors. You have to hope that they are talking ‘to’ rather than in ‘media mode’ talking ‘at’.

Both parties received mandates in recent elections to not cede ground to the other.

They also received mandates to make government work and deliver outcomes for health, education, infrastructure and economic development. The one is now cancelling out the other.

Never was it truer that you should be careful what you wish for from your constituency. Indeed, the constituencies cannot escape responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves.

DUP leader Arlene Foster recently suggested going back into government to deal with some areas of government whilst leaving contentious issues to be addressed, presumably in a parallel process.

This is a clear sign surely of seeking wriggle-room to create an atmosphere favourable to accommodating Sinn Fein’s requirements and allowing both parties to extricate themselves from their entrenchment.

The parties dismissed the offer arbitrarily but addressing the matter of the Gaelic language, as suggested, offers a timely opportunity to broaden debate and place language alongside, traditions, heritage, identity and culture to broaden understanding and move thinking away from the too dominant and limiting binary model that has resulted from the way in which politics has been conducted in Northern Ireland by those parties which have exercised power.

Is this not preferable to the assertive and toe-to toe negotiations of the political tug of war that now obtains?

In terms of the impact of this within the wider community, the tug of war is proving less than comfortable for the rope and a shared conciliatory, enlightened and constructive approach could change the status quo in a more meaningful and permanent way.

The jury is out on why Sinn Fein is pushing the agenda so vigorously.

The self-indulgent behaviour of ‘curry my yoghurt ‘ grandstanding speaks for itself however there are indications that Sinn Fein’s stance goes beyond hurt feelings.

Evidence suggests that the Sinn Fein constituency was unhappy at what was interpreted as disrespect for the Irish language and by implication, Irish-ness.

The dissidents did not need this as a stick to beat Sinn Fein. What is less clear is whether it is a matter of identity or culture or a combination of the two and if it is being used as a throwback to the days of de-Anglicisation, Douglas Hyde and de Valera.

Sinn Fein rarely does anything that is not strategic so the latter is not without possibility. It may indeed be part of the mind-set. If so, it places itself in the same time warp of that section of unionism whose reaction to the Gaelic language reflects ignorance, blatant bigotry and decades long denial of what should be its central principles.

Too often, on all sides, lop-sided fear has not always matched the risks. Recrimination has been the preferred choice to reconciliation. They fail to see that they do not see.

Both mind-sets exercise a too great influence on our politics and advocates are probably lobbying hard within their respective parties to limit the manoeuvring of leaders who, if they are not, should be moving towards resolution of current difficulties.

The already tortuous process of hard-set ultimata in which they engage is allowing alienation, disenchantment and denial to become contagious.

The community has been locked into a particular narrative and expectant strategic outcome but it should not matter what the solutions look like or how they are defined where there is a genuine desire to embed reconciliation and build consensus.

The central requirement is for political leaders to take their members and the community to where they can be and need to be.

At the very least we can begin by abandoning the debilitating habit of solving one problem situation by sowing the seeds of the next one.

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