If you are looking for the moment when the politics of this place began to turn in the wrong direction, then just think back to this week a year ago.

November 8th – the unveiling of a portrait of the Queen by the highly acclaimed Irish artist Colin Davidson and Martin McGuinness present at that London event with other political leaders, including Arlene Foster.

None of us watching on television, or reading the various posts on social media or the many news reports blinked an eye.

We had come to expect this sort of thing; take it for granted and turn the page to whatever was next; but we were missing something.

Out of our vision and hearing, there was a mood change; a questioning among significant republican figures of Martin McGuinness’s presence at this event.

It had nothing to do with the Queen, whose contribution to reconciliation had long since been acknowledged; nothing to do with the artist, whose 2015 exhibition ‘Silent Testimony’ was praised as a remarkable contribution; a memorial crafted in the care and the colours and the brush strokes that Davidson applied to those 18 portraits.

Tens of thousands of people visited the Ulster Museum to hear the silence and to see into those talking eyes.

In this exhibition, the artist had remembered things long since forgotten; the people he painted all had stories to tell about the horrors of the conflict years and the hurt that simply refuses to go away.

This was not about the past, but, to borrow Davidson’s words, it is about “right now.”



To return to November last year, and the unveiling of his portrait of the Queen, the focus of republican questioning was on the unionist political leadership; on what was coming back – or not coming back – in terms of healing and reconciliation.

Peter Sheridan – Chief Executive of the peace-building organisation Cooperation Ireland – had organised the London event and, soon afterwards, met Martin McGuinness again:

“His concern was the continual reaching out. He didn’t see himself reaching out to the Queen, but reaching out to unionism through meeting the Queen.

“Republicans didn’t see that reaching out being reciprocated in any measure – [rather] a lack of generosity from the DUP,” Sheridan told the website.

This is the mood that played into that period late last year turning into the New Year; the unfolding story of the RHI débâcle now under the spotlight of a public inquiry; the Martin McGuinness resignation as deputy first minister; the collapse of the Executive; the elections since; the endless negotiations and still no agreement.



Now read from November 8th 2016 to November 8th 2017 – and the headline on Jim Gibney’s Irish News column on Wednesday of this week: ‘Republicans will ask: Is the north ungovernable?

Gibney is a former prisoner and a veteran of the republican movement – now PA to Senator Niall O Donnghaile.

The final paragraph of his column sums up the mood: “After ten months of interminable and frustrating talks with the DUP, the question that republicans will now be asking themselves, based on this failed experience: is the north ungovernable?”

November 8th  2017, was also when the people of Enniskillen again remembered the bloody horror of the Remembrance Day bomb 30 years ago; what the IRA did; the murder and the slaughter of that day; the hurting “right now” – the unanswered questions from another broken day that cannot be fixed.

Have republicans said all they can in response to those questions?

NO they haven’t.

Next year, in the period of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Colin Davidson’s ‘Silent Testimony’ will be on exhibition at The Clinton Centre in Enniskillen.

That Agreement is held up worldwide as the political example of how you confirm peace, yet in today’s political play at Stormont, the past and the present are becoming bigger arguments.

For more than a week now, there has been no talking about the talks.

Is there to be another phase of negotiations, or after Secretary of State James Brokenshire moves the budget bill at Westminster, will the focus become some Plan B?

We wait for the next public commentary – and as we wait for that, Stormont moves ever closer to a full year without functioning politics.

In that 12 months span from November 2016 to November 2017, everything changed and nothing has changed since.

Stormont remains stuck.

Is this place really ungovernable?

12 thoughts on “IS THIS PLACE REALLY UNGOVERNABLE? – By Brian Rowan 

  1. Reminds me of that line from The Quiet Man Film, “If I was going to Whiter Morn, I wouldn’t start from here’. It seems whatever journey we are heading on is frought with conflict. Perhaps a united Ireland may be the trick, but then again there are those who would no doubt fight tooth and claw at this idea. An accommodation seems impossible. Perhaps we have the best of all possible worlds at this moment, a stand off. One where violence is minimised, hate is controlled in a relative manner, and we all pretend we live in a ‘normal society’.

    So to go back to The Quiet Man (where there was a happy ending) there has to be a resolution of the key difficulties. I don’t think we are at that stage yet as the political methodology and will in place is pretty useless. A significant number of the politicians need to be replaced and fresh forward thinking ones taking their seats.

    But who is going to challenge this inbuilt conservatism in the political system? Some of the MLA’s have been there since the year dot. It’s time for the political Tippex to come out and create a clear sheet, but of course I’m speaking idealistically. When realism bites in, we then see the Norn Iron Neanderthal at work. It’s sad and depressing, but it will take a lot more social pain yet to change people’s minds and shift their voting patterns to a more progressive society.

  2. Every Unionist thought, act, word, and inflection of speech, is calibrated against the possibility that any of these might weaken the Union. Not an inch is alive and well. We are stuck likes flies in amber.

    • “Not an inch is alive and well.”

      If you are suggesting that Ulster Unionists don’t want to be Irish Nationalists, I guess that is true enough.

      But I suspect that “not an inch” works the other way as well: Irish Nationalists not wanting to relinquish their hope of a United Ireland.

  3. I feel so frustrated for the ordinary Unionist and loyalist people. They are bereft of leadership. This protracted and infinitely boring negotiation is not about the restoration of Stormont it is in actual fact about the future of unionism on the island of Ireland and the people leading the talks haven’t even got a sense of what is at stake.
    Dodds resplendent in his best negotiator garb thinks he has it sussed with his May pact. God love his wit. Arlene god love her hasn’t a clue. Is there a Unionist De Klerk? What hope ulster’s abandoned tribe? Come on folks you really have to do better. We do really want to live with a workable accommodation but time is running out.Shit or get off the pot. we are moving on regardless.
    PS Jim for all his short comings gets it right now and again.

  4. “I feel so frustrated for the ordinary Unionist and loyalist people. They are bereft of leadership”

    I feel sorry for both sides. Nationalist leadership is a long history of broken promises about a United Ireland. Brexit is the latest event that will “deliver it”. Prior to that it was the Scots leaving the Union, before that it was demographics, the ballot box and the armalite etc etc. It was inevitable.It has always been inevitable, until this year when Declan Kearney said it wasn’t inevitable, and 4 months or so later Gerry Adams said it wasn’t inevitable.
    That looks to me like they have worked out that for Brexit to deliver it will have to be a total disaster for the UK AND leave Ireland unscathed. Are Nationalists being yet again prepped for another let down?

  5. Since the north of Ireland – or Northern Ireland for those who prefer it – was established under threat of UK arms with its carved out majority its fate was sealed. Such States can be Governed with the use of Special Laws, societal/cultural/political/economic discrimination. When further internal gerrymandering is added to the above then things can be managed/governed – for a while.
    But unless more forceful methods such as directly forced ethnic cleansing and/or immigration are applied, or even genocide then such States will inevitably find they must reform radically or – be prepared to fall into conflict for resisting such change.

    So this State was at one time governable – many governed States are governable even they too like this State are/were not Democracies.
    So the answer is in two parts – 1> Yes at one time it was Governable. and
    2> Its now totally ungovernable as presently constituted.

    Unionism were given this State as gift from UK for things rendered, such as difficult occupation/planation by previous generations.
    But Unionism was unable to be generous at anytime during the Sates existence. It even disregarded Treaty protections for its invent minority.

    Every concession to the marooned Nationalist/Native people was resisted, even in the face of demands from the State’s creator the UK.

    Now its all over – the north of Ireland/Northern Ireland will Never be the same again.
    The Demographic changes are too big for Unionism to oppress and for the London, Dublin & the wild-card EU to ignore.
    Our day has come, as it was always going to come.
    Unionism’s arrogance failed to grasp John Hume’s oft-given advice – “make a new settlement now from your strong position.

    Every tragedy we have created & inflicted on each other & others during the Conflict years are all due to Unionism’s lack of vision and neighbourliness.

    Unionism is a lost cause.

    • “Every tragedy we have created & inflicted on each other & others during the Conflict years are all due to Unionism’s lack of vision and neighbourliness.”

      I see. So, what you are saying (among other things) is that “Every tragedy” someone else (“we”) has inflicted on me (a Unionist), is my fault?

      Well, that’s handy, in a kind of guilt absolving way.

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