OPINION: A deal is doable, it’s always been doable - Colum Eastwood

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
  • Inactivity at Stormont is not only frustrating, it’s very worrying

It was back to school time this week but not back to Stormont. That is the serious, damaging and frustrating reality that northern politics faces into this Autumn.

Political summertime may well have the luxury of standing still but the growing problems in our public services, particularly in health and education, do not. The formula is obvious and it is ongoing.

Budget black holes mean cuts; cuts mean crises and all those crises end up hurting people. So where do we go from here?

We’ve never been starved of a commentary of despair in this part of the world, but that shouldn’t distract us from a plain truth - a deal is doable and it’s always been doable. It will require no-one to sacrifice their principles but it may require some to sacrifice their pride.

After months of DUP figures telling us that there can be no Irish Language Act, it was a welcome change of tone to hear Arlene Foster inform her party Executive that unionism had nothing to fear from the Irish language.

But instead of kicking the can down the road, agreement should now be reached to deliver a sustainable and inclusive Executive. We need to learn the lesson that fudges haven’t worked.

It’s well past time that unionist leaders stood up to those people who prey on fear of the Irish language and Irishness and told them that they are wrong.

The United Kingdom, to which they give allegiance, has no problem giving legal recognition and protection to native languages, be it in Scotland or in Wales.

Why should their idea of Britishness be any different and how exactly does the Irish language threaten that Britishness? The time comes when people who are wrong need to be told to wise up.

Likewise, those within our own nationalist community who are saying that, in the supposed interests of unity, we should let the institutions fall indefinitely and let Brexit unleash its wreckage need to be told they’re wrong too.

Such a strategy is not only stupidly simplistic, but is also deeply dangerous - it is a strategy which would cost all of us in the North. If that is the hidden strategy on the part of Gerry Adams, then he needs to wise up too.

Since when did politics here forget that hard truths are designed as much for your friends as they are for your opponents?

That’s how real politics works and it’s how deals are done.

Many of the other issues which need to be addressed, including marriage equality, are waiting to be solved by changing the Petition of Concern to ensure that it is only ever used to protect minorities rather than abuse them. We equally shouldn’t forget that the DUP no longer hold the numbers to veto progress - so let’s bring them into the Assembly and let’s out-vote them. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Doing the deal is also just the start.

We would do well to remember that the institutions weren’t exactly loved when they were up and running. Other than the maintenance of peace there aren’t too many running to shout about what was actually achieved in the last decade of devolution. The status quo of the last 10 years wasn’t just about a lack of respect - it was a status quo of largely useless government. Given that it was the first time our community has held sustained power here since partition, nationalism in particular needs to reflect on that.

If devolution is to return, it needs to show that it can protect and enhance the lives of our people who face an uncertain future in the context of Brexit.

Politics here needs to remember that its true test is not the size of the mandate you receive – it’s the size of the change you achieve with that mandate. That change is only possible if we have a working government. It’s time to go back to school and learn that lesson.