September 1, 2018
BY JOE LEARY
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
The intransigence, bullheadedness, and pigheadedness of politicians throughout the world have frequently brought suffering, pain, and poor government to the people they are supposed to serve. Whether this occurs because the leaders believe they are legitimately representing their constituents or simply that they are stubborn, the result is the same.
Our American Civil War with its 600,000 dead is a good example of the devastation wrought when politicians fail in their duties.
In the disgraceful case of tiny Northern Ireland (with a population – 1.8 million – less than a third of the Massachusetts number) religion and power-seeking seem to be the most immediate causes of a nearly complete abdication of responsibility by the political leadership.
It has been 21 months since the local government shut down in a bitter row between leading officials in Northern Ireland. And there have been no serious attempts by the British government to bring the parties together.
The Conservative Party now in control of the British Parliament and its leader, Prime Minister Teresa May, have appointed Karen Bradley as Secretary of Northern Ireland. She has been totally ineffective in trying to solve the situation.
The absurdity of the problem is underlined by the fact that the 108 men and women in the Assembly are still getting paid and have access to free office space in the Capital buildings at Stormont. Why should they go back to work when they are receiving the funds anyway?
The two major parties, the DUP, led by Arlene Foster, and Sinn Fein, led by Michelle O’Neill, rarely communicate with each other except through the newspapers. The three lessor parties, the SDLP, the UUP, and the Alliance felt they were not being listened to and have refused to participate in the discussions.
One of the stumbling blocks is recognition of the Irish language as part of the Northern Irish culture. The DUP says absolutely no while Sinn Fein points to 45 percent or more of the North’s population as nationalists who theoretically desire a United Ireland.
But there are many other reasons for the divisiveness. The DUP wants to stay part of Britain and feels its 10 votes in Parliament keeping the Conservatives in power give them an advantage in the Brexit discussions. On the other side, Sinn Fein may feel that they will win the next Assembly election so why not stall on any talking.
The government shut down has taken place during the all-important Brexit discussions that will have a profound impact on life in Northern Ireland. Here again, the fierce resistance of some British leaders to approve any plan offered to solve the negotiating problems with the European Union is causing delay after delay, complicating an already confusing situation. The impact of the British vote to leave Europe is going to get a lot worse before next March when they have set the date to leave. This will not be good for anyone. Brexit is still an enormous threat to both Northern Ireland and Ireland itself.
• While this dark cloud is forming, the Northern government is not functioning and its leaders are not being heard. The Assembly is silent on questions like:
• Will there be a “hard border” with all traffic being stopped and recorded along the 302- mile line separating the northern 6 counties from the southern 26.
• Or will there be a so called “soft border,” allowing free passage? The soft border is being fought bitterly by many in leadership (Brexiteers) in London as being an infringement on British sovereignty.
This is a very dangerous argument for all.
In the village of Blacklion, Co. Cavan, just across the border from the village of Belco, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, there is a thriving dairy business. Lakeland Dairies trucks travel across the border 150 times a day picking up milk from 2,200 family farms.
The company Diageo that makes the famous Guinness beer and other beverages has plants on both sides of the border. Accorder to Bloomberg News, they send trucks across the border about 18,000 times a year.
What will become of these businesses if the border shuts down?
For the Northern Ireland Assembly, the time to speak up is now.