Micheál Martin: “time for those elected to serve in democratic institutions to be allowed to get to work”

So will the current talks coming to anything? Some indications from Micheál Martin yesterday in a Statements on Northern Ireland session in the Dáil hint that the British and Irish governments are finally widening the circle of influence in the current talks…

It appears that by ending the complete dominance of the talks by the chief antagonists there has at least been space for the dis-satisfied majority in Northern Ireland to have its voice heard.

The destructive cycle of bi-lateral exchanges has thankfully been abandoned and there is an opportunity for new ideas to be tabled and for the largest parties to be challenged.

It’s important to view these two parties as a twosome, not least because that it is how the two government’s have dealt with them from the negotiations at St Andrews onwards, and how, in turn, they’ve used such exclusive influence to squeeze smaller rivals.

The cover offered to the DUP and Sinn Féin by the very confidentiality of these arrangement has had two effects. One, smaller parties have struggled for relevance in the eyes of their voters, and two, gradually it swallowed the ground available to them for compromise.

It’s to this latter point that Martin addressed himself when after noting that ” issues which were irrelevant to the collapse of the institutions are now presented as the only reason for the collapse” he segued on to the need for both to clear space for compromise:

It would mark a major step forward if the largest parties were to candidly admit their roles in the deadlock and to accept that some of their actions have caused real hurt and division.

Fundamentally these talks cannot succeed if the largest parties are motivated by wanting to either claim a win or to avoid admitting to changing anything in their positions. Last week’s so-called ‘intensification’ of talks lasted 25 minutes and apparently simply heard reasons why there would be no flexibility.

We have to break this cycle of entrenched positions and regular breakdowns and the only way to do this is for those parties to be willing to take a risk on a new approach.

Then he points out what should have been “bleedin’ obvious” 8834 days ago: allow the Assembly to signal publicly how the DUP has been using the threat of a Petition of Concern in order to subvert a legitimate (non threatening) majority view…

The fact is that a simple restoration of the Assembly and Executive would, even if for a limited period, at a minimum allow the democratic voice of the people to be heard.

Let the Assembly majority have a voice against Brexit, against cutbacks to schools and health services and in favour of equality and diversity. How could this possibly do anything other than mark a positive development.

It requires other moves before legal measures can be implemented, but the democratic legitimacy behind these policies would be a powerful demonstration of the will to move forward.

And what of London’s present paralysis?

It falls to our government to insist that there is a genuine urgency in the meetings. That alternative strategies and policies are allowed to be discussed. And that Parties be obliged to address the scale of public disquiet concerning budget cuts and decisions imposed by British ministers.

These talks can’t be suspended. They must be kept going and the public must be given honest accounts of what has been considered. We need an end to the system of duelling briefings from the largest parties which have been the only sources of information on discussions. [Emphasis added]

Finally, with a nod to a general sense of drift, neglect and disconnection between the democratic institutions of the Republic and Northern Ireland…

The problem in this House is that over the past eight years a habit developed of only talking about the North when there is a crisis, such as the appalling murder of Lyra McKee.

The issue in not that people should butt-out, it is that it falls to everyone here to challenge the right of others to control the debate on Northern Ireland.

Enormous damage has been caused by the absence of democratic institutions in Northern Ireland since January 2017. It’s long past time for the people elected to serve in democratic institutions to be allowed to get to work.

Photo by Randy Colas is licensed under CC0

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