I had the chance to read two pieces over on the Bele Tele’s site from Ed Curran (I seemingly read a lot of his pieces, right?) and serial moaner Alex Kane about the state of the North and where we go from here. Before I get into my thoughts I must add that I always amazed out how unionist commentators always squeeze in references to dissident republicans even when they are not the main threat at the moment but hey, best to build up the capacity of a foe and shift the gaze away from washing your own dirty linen in public, right?
Alex’s piece asks if the current set up in the North with Stormont and the institutions will get any better or is this it.
‘So: a simple question. Is this as good as it gets? Are we really like one of those peculiar families from an Austen, or Trollope, novel, going through the motions of civility and good manners when we find ourselves in the same room, but delighted when we get back to our own comfort zones within our own turf?
Oh, yes, we will all nod very politely when issues like integrated education and a ‘shared future’ are mentioned in mixed company, but we still live in our own ‘us-and-them’ areas and carry our own prejudices quietly, but firmly.‘
These are fair points to be made, and as I have noted previously, I personally feel that creating a ‘normal society’ in the North is impossible owing to the basis of its creation along sectarian lines, while changing this is akin to changing the tire on a car whilst speeding along at 90 mph. It also begs the question, what did people really think was going to happen post GFA? A lot of commentators seemingly have buyers remorse at the moment and thought we would all put aside our differences and march into the sun together.
Is it reasonable to expect Nats to simply say this is as good as it gets for us, lets give up our aspirations as seems to be the case among many commentators in the MSM? What was supposed to happen post GFA because all of the commentators tell us that this is not what they expected, yet they do not tell us what they expected without having to resort to vague niceties or generalities. Further, no one seems to figure in the fall out of the now self-inflicted triple dip recession or the slow normalisation of politics in the North.
Ed Curran, however, believes that a fall in the turnout for Assembly elections is an obvious sign that the people do not believe in Stormont:
‘The last Assembly vote was 8% lower than the previous one and 15% down on the first one in 1998. These figures do not suggest that Northern Ireland is impressed by the performance of the Stormont Executive. On the contrary, disillusion appears to have grown over time.
Who are these 550,000 people? Why do they think as they do? What has turned them off the political process?‘
Of course, I could be contrary and note that this could be a sign of the normalisation of politics here as this is the norm across the Western world, but in the North that would not tie in with the narrative over at the Tele. Further, Ed notes that:
‘People want to believe Stormont is better than direct rule, but arguments in favour of local control are not helped by images of a near-empty Assembly chamber, where MLAs don’t turn up to present questions and, above all, where legislative progress is painfully slow. The talking-shop stigma remains. Fortunately, the next Assembly election may not take place before 2016, by which time there should be far fewer MLAs, district councils and a single education authority.’
Seriously, people care about a ‘near empty’ chamber? If that were the case why have I not heard these same calls for the Dail or Westminster? Also, I am not for massive amounts of legislation being produced by assemblies, then we have massive amounts of red tape, and we all know what Ed would be saying if lots of legislation were to be brought into effect, but hey, better to complain constantly. I am actually quite content that we have a ‘lack’ of legislation at the moment, the ministers have sufficient power in their departments and short of cries from people for specific legislation, these calls or criticisms are pretty baseless.
As I have noted before, we are in the middle of a massive depression like time where an assembly that administers 1.7 million+ people with no tax raising or lowering powers and a limited scope to raise additional revenue is being asked to be omnipotent. It begs the question, do our commentators really understand the limits of power and how it is exercised?
However, I think Alex should be left with the last part as I think it is most relevant and realistic for the North and for us all to think about:
‘[It] raises the question of what we, collectively and as members of two big power-bloc communities, actually want? What sort of solution are we looking for?
Let me put that in another way: do most of us actually want some sort of great social/political/electoral breakthrough and a brave new world? Or would we be happy enough with doing our own thing in our own areas and let the Assembly get on with providing the essentials of government, while keeping the ‘other side’ in check?‘
I think the answer for most people is definitely the latter in their heart of hearts, though I could be wrong and have been before.