The Arlene versus Michelle version of social distancing cannot continue to cause a political vacuum. There is either going to be a bust up or a kiss and make up, whatever it has to end one way or the other.
Buddy making will look like another DUP concession. A climb down sending the wrong signal that republicanism can do what it likes,,when it likes. Walking away brings down the shutters for good on Stormont. Sinn Fein have not covered themselves in glory. If they are serious about power sharing they are sitting in the last chance saloon. The public are asking, what is the point in signing up to futile agreements?
Perhaps, there could be one more throw of the dice to save devolution from crashing out at the bottom of a slippery slope. How do you second guess the public mood which seems indifferent to the shenanigans of the political elite? At every twist of every new crisis there is evidence that people are debating who is actually protecting the Belfast Agreement.
Would the public and the politicians welcome the intervention of an independent intermediary? Or could the DUP and Sinn Fein do themselves and the rest a good turn by sitting down and deciding does accommodation matter. The people deserve to know where they stand in terms of the parties coming clean with their commitment to providing sustainable stability writ large in a promissory note. A pledge of office which they will uphold.
The country is reeling from living in dreaded fear of the impacts of Covid-19. For young families, the elderly and our special needs community it is especially a difficult period. The economy is under immense stress. More job losses are expected once the government’s furlough package ends. Investors will not knock on the door of any country suffering from its leaders at loggerheads. The Health Service and hats off to all key workers, may not be in shape to withstand a coronavirus second wave.
Yet we are caught unable it seems to do anything about the First Minister and her deputy not on speaking terms. A sincere apology from Mrs. O’Neill to the wider community would be appreciated. It would go a long way to easing tensions. It is a lot better than looking like a spoilt child unable to say sorry.
This takes us back to an intermediary. Yes, we have been here before too often, which highlights the futility of reprimands across the board and limp slaps on the wrists. The question is – can an intermediary get a lasting result? To be worth the bother he or she must be powerful enough and highly respected to set out and reinforce the ground rules for both ladies to accept.
Therein lies a wonderful opportunity for an intermediary to seek public opinion on what they want done in their name – chiefly to what extent do the people consider it worthwhile to maintain devolution and in what form? High on the list has to be a conduct rules and regulations contract for Executive ministers with clear guidelines on breaches and sanctions.
A retired headmaster reminded me of how petulance, poor judgements and selfishness were conspiring to destroy the integrity of the peace. “David,” he said, “the current occupants on the hill, didn’t do anything to support the Agreement. Subsequent arrangements like the New Deal – New Approach are jokers in the pack. How can they be expected to honour that which they bend and break at will? Dishonouring commitments is a bad example to set for the children.”
My reply was “Yes you are correct of course. How do we push for the provision of ‘peace, order and good government?” The ensuing conversation unanimously concluded – it shouldn’t be that bloody difficult.