Out of the Quaqmire – William Mitchell
The current political DUP/Sinn Fein ‘carve up’ at Stormont seems to be considerably frustrating for us all. Decisions can’t be made and devolution can’t function properly whilst those who govern continue to appease each other with equal ‘slices of the cake’. We need look no further than the recent Girdwood fiasco. Although such behaviour is historically routine to the ordinary voter, we were promised so much more with the formation of the Executive Assembly and the Peace Process. Just recently, I was listening to some music and the words of this verse struck a chord with me.
“Ring them bells St. Catherine from the top of the room
Ring them from the fortress for the lillies that bloom
For the lines are long and the fighting is strong
And we’re breaking down the distance between right & wrong”.
In hearing them I began reflecting on what had went wrong with our current political situation and the metaphors in the words helped influence my thinking. The ringing of bells is an age-old tradition for the practice of disseminating news. How often have we heard of the ‘Town Crier’ summoning folk by ringing his bell – or Santa, for that matter, to beckon the children? The top of the room implies a position of advantage from the sanctuary of safety where upon you can witness a new dawn in the form of the blooming Lillies. And the determined battle lines are far-reaching suggesting everyone is involved but it is worth pursing because both opposing sides are getting closer.
All this seemed metaphorically indicative of progress made since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. However, optimism these days has wilted. The ringing of bells seems more relevant to the practice of “bring out your dead” during the Black Plaque. The top of the room is now a position of power, not from which to witness a new dawn but from where those elites can look down on others who are repressed. No longer do the flowers bloom for they are trampled under the feet of ministers in jackboots who summon party reinforcements to extend the battlelines and strengthen the ‘right’ in opposition to the ‘wrong’.
So what has changed? It seemed the distance between right and wrong, or to be more accurately between two opposing arguments on the one continuum, was contained within a positive political framework where at least agreeing to disagree was the order of the day. And whilst the framework was fragile it appeared to be holding because each opposing side seemed prepared to compromise somewhat or, at least, take it in turn to ‘jump first’. Holding the frame in place was the office of the First and Deputy First Minister under the auspices of Mr Paisley and Mr McGuiness respectively. Of course, this was just a façade played out under the guise of the caricature now referred to as the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ but probably more accurately attributed to a Movie Macabre.
Mr Paisley, it appears, was allowed his swansong, his crowning moment before being ‘put out to graze’ and replaced by Mr Robinson. Now the positive political framework has been shattered and replaced. We’ve now changed channels and instead of watching the Chuckle Brothers we’re induced by repeat episodes of the Blame Game. The distance between right and wrong is back on the agenda, played out this time by what I can only describe as isometric politics. For any of you of a certain vintage familiar with the old ‘Bullworker’ you may remember that isometric strength was developed on the notion of equal and opposite force. You pushed both ends of the Bullworker until you could push no more – you were neither succumbing to the force or overcoming it.
This is what I mean by isometric politics – both sides applying equal force to the same opposing arguments. “You want the Maze developed – we don’t. You want a minister in Police and Justice – we don’t. We want RIR troops parading on the streets – you don’t ” and so on and so forth.
What does this quaqmire give rise to? According to the defunct, not-so-long ago IMC report – dissidents. Lord Alderdice makes what he calls a reciprocal link between the Executive’s failure to act and the rise in dissident activity. He claims there is enough factual evidence going back 4 years to suggest this. He adds that thankfully the dissident activity has been more of quantity and not as successful as they would like to be in achieving their violent objectives.
In the long term, what I find equally concerning is the rise in dissidence – the change in attitude, rhetoric, behaviour, beliefs and so forth from our so-called leaders which is gradually subsumed by the ‘ordinary’ person on the street. This is what’s putting the “distance between right and wrong” back on the political radar. However, this ‘distance’ is being filled again, as in the past, with an appetite for violence. We see evidence of this in the rise in paramilitary punishments in Republican communities, which only reinforces the need for all of us, who are committed to transformation, continuing with our work. The ACT Initiative, which is the UVF/RHC’s strategic approach to demilitarisation and reintegration is an example of why there are no longer ‘kneecappings’ in Loyalist communities. Such work is rarely made public but may prove to be a contributory factor in helping us out of the quaqmire. My experience is that the participants are committed to positive change for all our communities and I for one will ring them bells for all to hear.