Where's the leadership?
For most reasonable people, the sight of our two 'leaders' chuckling together is wonderful. It's an incredible step forward, considering the alternative. But is it enough?
There are deeply worrying signs, particularly on the unionist side, that the DUP is frozen to the ground by fear, given their hard line anti-agreement past. They're afraid to spell out the real benefits of power sharing with all parties in case it's too obviously a contradiction of their past. Yes, it's a miracle that we have functioning devolved government at all, but just functioning isn't enough. We need leadership.
When DUP spokesmen defend the present arrangements, they usually focus on a few specific points. They claim, for instance, to have 'forced' Sinn Fin to support the police and claim to have prevented an Irish Language Act. On the other hand, they dare not mention the bigger picture or spell out the obvious in simple terms.
The fact, for instance, that devolved government - on an inclusive basis with real North/South cooperation - is a huge advance on undemocratic rule by lords and masters with no real interest in us needs to be said again and again. I don't expect them to put it in those terms but they need to articulate their own vision. It can't be just about grabbing their portion of power for its own sake. Do we understand the real value of a shared and peaceful future in this small corner of the island?
Instead, we're getting silence on the big issues. Where are the keynote speeches or interviews by our First and Deputy First Ministers telling us how and why things are going well? The warmth of the meetings between Ian Paisley and Bertie Ahern in Ballymena and at Dundalk is obvious, but he can't spell it out. Instead, we just get silly jokes about snowballs. Meanwhile, Peter Robinson has welcomed a 42 million contribution from Dublin and a promise of 400 million for road improvements. Clearly, North/South co-operation is going well and no sensible person can fail to see it - but our leaders can't say it.
This was the classic mistake David Trimble made. There's no doubt that he could see the benefits of agreement and co-operation but the wreckers and hardliners forced him onto the defensive very early on. He was afraid to be positive.
Unless unionist leaders can finally find the positive voice to explain why they're on the right course, it could be "deja v all over again," as the footballers, with their expertise in foreign languages, say. People like Jim Allister and ex-unionist MP Willie Ross can't be out-flanked on the right. The new DUP can be.
Those daft enough to have believed Paisley's old rhetoric or whose basic motivation is that they can't stand the thought of having "a Fenian about the place" aren't open to rational argument. But there are those capable of seeing reason. They need to hear and come to terms with the reality of life in this small corner of Ireland in 2008. But how can they if their 'leaders' are too afraid to spell it out?
The Valentine's Day massacre of the DUP by Jim Allister, in the heartland of Dromore, makes the point but they seem to be taking the wrong message from it. If they allow it to force them even further onto the defensive, they’ll be on the slippery slope that destroyed David Trimble.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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