Our tired and failing democracy needs a new set of eyes

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning,
for she was born in another time.”
— Rabindranath Tagore

Good to see the Belfast Summit launched (Carlos Moreno is internationally influential and is a bit of a coup for them) just after the news of the likely restoration of Stormont. I hope we do get back to work.

On Good Morning Scotland (36.19) this morning I provided context for this breakdown and then agreement to anyone listening at such an early hour: not least how our last budget was in 2016.

It’s clear our problems go a lot deeper than whoever’s piece of political blackmail is currently playing live (as proxies try to deflect from the fact that both big parties are playing the exact same game).

What’s the name of that game? Beggar thy neighbour, thy own constituents (and anyone else who actually wants to get a decent job of work done to the benefit of the wider community).

There is a general lack of seriousness about getting things done. In 2006 there was not so much have a review to look at what was working, as a wholesale handing of power to control freaks.

The dynamism you expect of a normal democracy has drained from a system where there’s little space for intra communal power. When things get sticky the system collapses and concessions are sought.

Unionism has subsisted on a ‘well at least we stopped ‘themuns’ from getting anything valuable’, as though stopping a ‘weak as water’ Irish language Act was any kind of achievement.

They had their answer from their own electorate two years ago when they helped install the first Sinn Féin First Minister either by staying at home or defecting to parties on either side of the matter.

The party successfully ran campaigns on an only the DUP can stop SF for ten years. In year 15 this long run came to a humiliating halt. Yet the 2006 rule changes and their perverse incentives still exist.

Those changes superseded the original GFA rules that stated that the largest party in the largest designation should choose the First Minister, with the Deputy FM chosen from the smaller one.

The irony is that even on the 2022 result figures, there would still have been a unionist First Minister  (albeit by just two seats) it’s just that it might not necessarily be a DUP First Minster.

The net result has been a trivialisation of Northern Irish politics, which would be funny if it didn’t have such a downside for so many folks relying on a well run public service.

Take Mary Lou’s promise that ‘a united Ireland is in touching distance’. She knows, because she reads the data, that this is her version of the DUP’s ‘keep SF out by keeping them second place’ strategy.

Sinn Féin is now a similar space in which Jim Molyneaux once kept the Ulster Unionists in the late 80s early 90s. He retained strength, so long as he maintained a policy “masterly inactivity”.

The trouble is that inactivity breeds a culture of inactivity, where words are rarely commensurate with material actions, and “policy” bears no relation to the level of activation on the ground.

Last week, Fionnán Sheahan wrote a great skit on our shallow discourse regarding a united Ireland. I won’t replicate the whole thing, but here’s highlights from his FAQ’s for unity curious post unionists:

How will this work? We’re not sure but we see a united Ireland like an episode of Room to Improve: an excessively ambitious extension to a rundown house that will run way over budget, but will be fine in the end if enough money is thrown at it.

Who will be in charge of delivering it? Dermot Bannon.

Will the flag change? Yes, We’re going to buy a load of flags from the Ivory Coast, so the colours will symbolically change to orange, white and green.

Any other changes to symbols? No, big decisions take a long time here, just look how long it took to agree to a new host for The Late Late Show.

What concessions will be made to ­welcome folk from Northern Ireland? Patrick Kielty presenting The Late Late Show.

Will my children have to speak Irish? Better yet, we guarantee they won’t be able to speak Irish. It will be compulsory for them to learn it for 14 years in school, by the end of which the only sentence they’ll be able to string together in Irish will be asking to go to the toilet.

Change is happening, regardless of the naysayers, but not the way that anyone appears to have planned it (be they unionists or nationalists). Democracy is a sluggish river that cannot be rushed.

At some point the old heads who thought Northern Irish politics would always be about the domination of one tribe over another need to allow a new generation to see things differently.

And above all, give up trying to control everything and/or anybody else who doesn’t agree with you. There’s a ton of uncontroversial stuff that needs doing, let folks like Moreno inspire you and move on.

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