Derry unionist commentator Terry Wright urges Julian Smith and Simon Coveney to schedule Stormont election - there's no use 'pouring new wine into old wineskins'

Religious allegiance in Northern Ireland however flawed or sincere in its expression has been a complex factor in shaping communal differences, loyalties, bigotry and conflict.

Thursday, 9th January 2020, 5:11 pm
Julian Smith.

In doing so it has served to successfully inoculate against the potential value of beneficial insight and teaching.

As they endeavour to re-instate the Assembly and breathe fresh energy into devolved government at Stormont the Secretary of State, Julian Smith MP and Tánaiste, Simon Coveney TD could do worse than re-visit a parable found in the New Testament wherein ‘pouring new wine into old wineskins’ is not advised.

Those more suitably qualified to comment in detail will know that the parable lends itself to a number of interpretations but at its most basic is the point that to benefit from the new you have to be prepared to replace the old. It is a lesson Northern Ireland politicians are slow to learn.

Terry Wright.

In response, Westminster and Dublin seem prepared, once again, to accommodate and protect what the electorate is clearly and increasingly rejecting.

Equally worrying is the suggestion that legislation may be introduced which will extend the term of any Assembly to compensate for a three-year paid absence from work.

If this is the case, it will be to ignore the time-bound mandate which MLAs received in the last Assembly elections, reward the unwarranted and unjustifiable refusal to govern and visit further insult upon the electorate.

It is to be hoped that, some if not all, MLAs will have the decency to reject such a suggestion and elevation to political royalty. You cannot be of the people and seek deference.


The better and more principled option is to publish the RHI Report and hold a fresh election. In the light of what has been mooted in the event of a failure to agree a deal in the current talks, plans are presumably in place.

There are many in the community who would welcome a period of short-term Direct Rule endorsed by Westminster and Dublin to put the House in order, hold a fresh election, review and implement appropriate changes in Good Friday processes and structures with provision for civic input to then re-establish effective and efficient government at Stormont.

Failure to do this is to deny Northern Ireland the opportunity to step away from dark politics; to look beyond what we are to what we can become.

Abandoned to the failing apocalyptic politics of parties which have brought everyone to the same polarised precipice, governance will continue to exist within a rigged system on the edge of integrity.

Statesmanship and principled leadership will have been forfeited to the wheeler-dealing of cluttered mindsets and frozen identities in a world of diversity.

The tub-thumpers will have been rewarded by an inevitably fudged carve-up flavoured by resentment and back-pedalling.

The Secretary of State and the Tánaiste need to avoid short-termism and drill deeper to see what the electorate wants.

Culture is a clear case in point. It is patently wrong to view culture in Northern Ireland as fixed, as essentially orange or green, Gaelic or Ulster-Scots.

These serve as reference for cultural heritage but more fluid, hybrid and dynamic cultural identities within the community do not serve to promote combative dogmatism and ideology or seek reward for throwing a system of government into distress.

They do not serve as human borders to progress; through the celebration of enrichment they achieve the opposite. Rather than infiltrating the community, they enrich it and promote respect and equality.

Embracing diversity, many recognise that whilst they are interwoven, culture does not equate to political identity. Such are disinclined to deface signs or seek to establish cultural supremacy over a minority.

If this is not recognised and a narrow cultural bailout aimed at restoring devolution is put in place, we will be entering the future backwards.

By definition, a bailout is designed to rescue what is bankrupt and we cannot prosper with a decaying political infrastructure peopled by representatives who see but lack vision with the electorate cast in the role of handmaidens to political emptiness.

Give the electorate the opportunity to elect fresh representatives who will fill the void with issue-centred and problem-solving legislation which will address the needs of the whole community regardless of creed, race or political affiliation.

Why can’t our politics, underpinned by the need to build a shared and inclusive community, prioritise jobs, quality of life, regional imbalances, social injustice visited upon the gay, disabled and migrant communities, deficits in infrastructure, poverty, inequality and wasteful segregation?

Why can’t our politics address the problems within our healthcare structures, put in place and implement a strategy for dealing with Mental Health?

Why can’t the electorate hold to account those politicians who have chosen to neglect these issues for 3 years? Why can’t the electorate hear what those, privileged to serve as representatives, intend to deliver as outcomes and bring this society into a new era of focused co-operation and growth where the economy will work for all. Why can’t our politics establish a clear strategic role for Northern Ireland in addressing climate change?

Are we instead to be asked to forget to remember the folly of the last three years and the incompetence and lack of integrity and self-discipline which led up to it?

Are we to be asked to prepare for fresh polarization where nothing gets done? Are we to be asked to live under the governance of those who co-operate only to overcome, compete for power and seek supremacy?

If this is what the Secretary and Tánaiste ask of us, they might as well advise we get under the duvet to avoid the dark as we await the bursting of the wineskins.