Calling time on childhood
After Liverpool’s victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final last Saturday, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was told about Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho’s remark that the better team had lost that day. Gerrard smiled and replied: “Well, there’s a surprise.” Theses are words which a lot of us might feel like using as – at the time of writing – leaks regarding the latest IMC report come through, accompanied by the reaction of the DUP. The commission will report that the IRA is doing better but is still not as pure as it must be if the DUP are to join in government with Sinn Fein. The DUP will say: “Thank you very much, IMC, that’s just what we were thinking ourselves, what an intelligent and thrillingly independent quartet you are,” and the rest of us will say: “Well, there’s a surprise.”
All of which means the May-June six-week stint at Stormont will be a waste of time and money, and unless the IMC and the DUP learn a new tune between now and the autumn, a lot of us will find ourselves witnessing the end of the devolution experiment and sighing: “Well, there’s a surprise.”
Does it matter? Does the public here really care if the DUP doesn’t pull out of its kamikaze nose dive into the prospects of local power-sharing?
It depends on whom you ask. When a power-sharing executive was first established under David Trimble, the air was thick with postive comments on the performances of local ministers such as Martin McGuinness and Gregory Campbell. These ministers, it was agreed, understood local problems and could be held accountable for their actions, unlike the fly-by-night British ministers, who hadn’t a clue and couldn’t care less. A local power-sharing executive was deemed ‘a good thing’.
Then came the years of suspension, and pundits began to tell us the public were fed up with local politicians being unable to agree, and anyway that they hadn’t been all that hot when they had access to power, in fact they were in many respects an incompetent bunch. Most people, the commentators said, were perfectly happy with British direct rule, and the judgments of British ministers were likely to be more enlightened than that of local politicians anyway. Look at the mess local people made of running the education and library boards. Let’s face it, the population here can live with direct British rule because they know it’s far better than things being run locally.
The DUP take a third line on this matter of local vs direct rule. They believe the people of Ulster (ie, the unionist people of the six counties who vote for them) are keen to have devolved government. However – and it’s a big however – they say the people of Ulster/unionist-people-in-the-six-counties-who-vote-for-them have lost any faith they had in republicans. Were any political party to sit down in government with republicans, the people of Ulster would rise up in electoral wrath and repudiate such a deal. Not that the DUP would consider such a deal anyway. Only when criminals and subversives i.e. republicans have satisfied the DUP that they have given up their oul’ sins will it be possible for the DUP to sit down in government with Shinners. It’s unfortunate, of course, given the people’s appetite for devolution, but when you’re a principled party whose leader believes his political opponents worship in a church headed by the anti-Christ and when your party’s deputy leader has a criminal record for terrorising defenceless villagers, you have to maintain moral standards in politics.
You must not ask how the DUP knows the electorate would not countenance power-sharing with Sinn Féin until all republican sins are washed whiter than white in the DUP springs of judgment; and you must not ask how commentators know the public here are perfectly content for British ministers to go on governing here indefinitely. Or rather you can ask, but you’ll be wasting your time. They just know.
Which is a pity, because all this takes us away from what should be the deciding factor in the question of power devolution to a local administration. Whether or not Shaun Woodward or Peter Hain are better ministers than we might produce locally or poorer ministers than we might produce locally, isn’t the point. Whether the people of Ulster/unionist voters feel they trust republicans shouldn’t be the deciding factor either. There is a reason why we should, why we must, have local control of matters, a reason which goes beyond how well the job might be done by whom, or how much or how little trust there is in the air.
It’s the same reason as that which motivates us when we get up in the morning and wash and dress and go out to work, or take care of the children or do the shopping or get the car serviced or put a deposit on that family holiday.
It’s because we’re adults. That’s part of what being an adult involves – you look after yourself and those in your care. You take on responsibility and discharge it to the best of your ability. The man in the house to your right or the woman in the house to your left could, if you let them, run your life for you. They could move into your house and manage your accounts and tend to your children and make decisions for you, but no matter how brilliant such a neighbour might be, even if they were able to do the job twice as well as you, you’d be considered less than adult and possible a headcase if you let such a man or woman run your world.
We’re all grown-up now, and a key feature of being grown-up is that, for better and/or worse, we run the show ourselves, not the next-door neighbour. If we’re adults, we don’t really have a choice. Which is why the sooner we stop acting childishly and give Hain, Woodward and Co their ticket back home, the better.
Policing will be the next excuse
A few bad apples don't make a bad barrel