What next in the posturing at Stormont?

The peace/political process has become a sort of long-running tactical puzzle or game for contestants.

The peace/political process has become a sort of long-running tactical puzzle or game for contestants.

The rest of us are spectators and we’re meant to be impressed when the players appear to have wrong-footed their opposition. It’s a game involving an awful lot of posturing. It’s not about constructive relationships or seeking consensus. That’s particularly the case on the unionist side. The players are trying to out-do each other by coming up with clever tactics. We (the spectators) can enjoy watching but we’re unlikely to benefit in any other way. In fact, we’re more likely to be the real losers than any of the players. They’ll still have their salaries and pensions, no matter who ‘wins’. We know we should be doing something more sensible than following it but we’re addicted. It has reached an intriguing stage. Over 20 years into the peace process, is this what we’ve been reduced to? It seems so.

This paper last week reported a broad consensus amongst Derry’s nationalist politicians on the Ulster Unionists pulling out of the Executive. ‘A political stunt,’ was their verdict.

Of course they were right. Mike Nesbitt’s move was part of the tactical game to gain advantage over the DUP. While the Chief Constable believes individual members of the IRA were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, George Hamilton has made it clear that he accepts Sinn Féin’s bona fides in the peace process. And Martin McGuinness has been outspoken in his description of those who killed Mr McGuigan. That makes the Ulster Unionist move unjustified.

Meanwhile, the commentators were divided on whether or not it will pay a dividend for the Unionists. Mike Nesbitt is clearly intelligent but until now his judgement has been poor. He has appeared to be all over the shop on whether his party should try to out-flank the DUP on the left, or on the right. Now, in the short term, he appears to have pulled a fast one on the DUP. He has done something that has never been done before. He has out-flanked the DUP on the right. Nobody saw that coming. But will Nesbitt’s ploy pay off in the longer term? That’s very uncertain. Peter Robinson is a wily opponent. Unlike Nesbitt, he has an impressive record as a tactician but now he has to go in to bat on a poor wicket. He doesn’t want to be seen doing “business as usual” (there’s surely a fine irony in that phrase) with Sinn Féin and he doesn’t want the assembly to fall. He has too much to lose as do his MLAs. Can he square the circle? Can he manage his party during this tricky manoeuvre? As I say, play has reached an intriguing stage. Meanwhile, we got the shocking news that Ulster University is to axe its Modern Languages’ Department and there are likely to be job losses in other departments at Coleraine and at Magee. Can you have a serious university that doesn’t teach languages? There was also a drop in the number of students taking languages at GCSE level. Are languages too hard for our students? What happened to our supposedly wonderful schools? It seems the relentless process of academic inflation, devaluing the currency of education, remains rampant.