Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Sunningdale for slow learners?

Last weeks 'historic' power-sharing agreement met with mixed emotions. While most of the Northern Ireland electorate and the world's media were hopeful that a new era had dawned, some couldn't resist the chance to voice the negatives.
It could and should have happened 34 years ago.
Yes, it could have. But it didn't.
We are ready for it now. All agree that devolution is best for Northern Ireland, best for both sides.
Yes, Sunningdale, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews all sing from the same hymn sheet; but different times meant different mindsets resulting in different interpretations.
And yes, the DUP and Sinn Fein were the main opponents of the previous 'historic' agreements.
But only now are the main political factions (therefore the bulk of the electorate) ready to make the compromises necessary without feeling castrated.
The DUP and Sinn Fein are now the top dogs within their respective 'isms'. There is no need to fear challenges to their supremacy. And as for dissidents, their voice is as unwelcome as certain Sunday paper columnists.
Lives could have been saved, no doubt, if power-sharing had worked out in 1972. However, just because those on the hill sit down together doesn't necessarily mean that the masses will follow. It is only since the Good Friday Agreement that we have been hearing populist cries for bread and butter politics.
In any case, it didn't work. Our dirty and unnecessary struggle happened. Should haves, would haves, could haves will not rewrite history. We can't deny it but we shouldn't focus on it. We need to focus on the present, on making devolution work and last.
The big white elephant - the financial package. It may have helped in producing the u-turn. Focusing on these motives, just as focusing on the past; won't help build a stable and prosperous Northern Ireland.
There is a long road ahead but we'll not get to our destination by walking backwards.