Former aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair, Jonathan Powell thinks that the Peace process is ‘ fragile.’
Current Secretary of State Theresa Villliers is of the view that the NI Assembly risks becoming ‘deadlocked and dysfunctional.’ Not so long ago when addressing assembled Church dignitaries, she acknowledged the difficulty of ensuring that a mandatory coalition of 5 parties delivers for the people. Frustration or is it reality is growing? The decision to extend the term of the Assembly for a year beyond its elected mandate must now seem a questionable decision.
The Chief Constable of the PSNI has outlined the operational difficulties he faces as he commits resources to dealing with issues arising from our troubled past, a past that our representatives, in the absence of an agreed forum, cannot even discuss. He sails close to admitting that the PSNI may not be ‘ fit for purpose.’
This is not what the electorate voted for in 1998 and understood by subsequent amendments at St Andrews and Hillsborough.
It is now clear that the process, more manufactured than created, was poorly tested and founders on the whim of the Sinn Fein and DUP.
Designed to encourage joint co-operation, peace building and a durable socio-economic future, under the leadership of the two main parties and the ineffectiveness of the smaller parties, it has produced institutionalized division and structural sectarianism. Time, energy and democratic values are lost in entangled debate and circular arguments more akin to a political tragi-comedy.
Sinn Fein and the DUP are parties which have thrived on acrimony, negative provocation and instability so can it be surprising that they are entirely comfortable when these prevail? When they do appear to make agreements, they do not last. Propaganda is offered as dialogue. The other Parties protest but their protestations, too often lacking in robust convictions, may as well be written on water. The shameful abuse of Petitions of Concern render them politically impotent and largely irrelevant.
It seems clear that the involvement of the two bigger parties is a mere tactic aimed not at an accommodated and aggregated settlement but preference building and tribal victories. They are not at one with the spirit of the process and their control of the structures now stands in the way of political transformation.
A guaranteed place in government coupled with the ability of the bigger party Ministers to take advantage of and trade on the desire of their main partner’s desire to sustain power and lack of effective scrutiny is flawed.
Their behaviour is legitimized as a result of being negotiation partners but it is rule without any quality control. The absence of any willingness to feel ashamed suggests a lack of any credible moral compass. Content to enforce the tyranny of the minority they will act to have their way or impede a majority view.
As the decisions on various issues demonstrate, it is a sectarian and economically profligate arrangement, indicative of how our past continues to shape our present and more crucially, the future. Advance cannot even be described as incremental. Led to the bridge the protagonists, hard-wired for hostility, cannot find a way across.
In contrast the desire for better has gripped an increasing number of the electorate who look for a solution and an end to the betrayal of their trust. Within communities, groups, many on a cross-community basis engage in self-help governance. Reconciled and wanting to live in peace, they are ahead of those who wish to be seen as their political leaders. As a result of their actions and decisions, these leaders are growing remote and are increasingly perceived as imposed.
The structures that are enabling and empowering flawed and antagonistic politics are now serving as an impediment to desired transformation and effective governance. They cannot be seen as ironclad. The governments who devised them cannot escape responsibility for the results. Expressions of frustration and warnings of fragility and crisis will not bring solutions.
The electorate who have embraced peace and reconciliation and have no desire to see a return to conflict are the true stakeholders of the process. They deserve better.