The time has come for David Cameron to show some leadership on Northern Ireland.
The time has come for David Cameron to show some leadership on Northern Ireland
The Queen’s ongoing visit to Northern Ireland should encourage us all. For a third time Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness has met with Her Majesty despite, just two years ago, having declared that it would be a “huge ask” for him to meet her at the time of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Make no mistakes about it, despite the over use of the word in politics, ‘historic’ was an accurate reflection of the moment. As the deputy first minister noted yesterday after the meeting:
“Reconciliation requires bold gestures and this is the third time I have met with Queen Elizabeth as part of that continuing process.”
There can be little doubt he is right. Yet for all the history and significance of the event, the protocol and handshakes need to be firmed up with action to tackle the many lingering sores that continue to blight Northern Ireland’s political landscape.
Speaking yesterday as he was awarded the 2013 Tipperary International Peace Award in recognition of his efforts as chairman of the multi-party talks which sought last year to bring resolution to the issues of parades, flags and the past, the former US diplomat Richard Haass noted that for solutions to be found required “leadership, plain and simple”.
This means firstly Northern Ireland’s politicians being prepared to compromise in the pursuit of a settlement on a scale equal to the compromises that led to the Good Friday Agreement and the DUP being prepared to share power with Sinn Fein.
But it also requires leadership from both the UK and Irish governments.
Since he took office David Cameron has opted for a much lower key role in the affairs of Northern Ireland, preferring instead to leave the parties to settle their differences themselves.
While this approach does have some merit, the lesson from history is that there come certain moments when intervention from the prime minister and taoiseach, working hand in glove, is needed to resolve particularly tricky situations.
Would the Good Friday Agreement have been possible had it not been for the close working relationship and direct involvement of both Tony Blair and Bertie Aheren? And let’s not forget Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen’s direct interventions to secure the devolution of justice powers to Northern Ireland at a time when it looked unlikely to happen.
The signals are clear and it is time that leaders in both Dublin and London rolled their sleeves up to find a way around the impasse that Northern Ireland now faces on flags, parades and the past.
As Alliance Party leader and justice minister David Ford has said:
“Given the threat to community relations from another summer of unrest, it is scandalous that the first and deputy first ministers have left these issues sitting on the shelf.
“If they will not organise these all-party talks that they promised three weeks ago, then the British government must take the responsibility of doing so.”
Whilst it might not be a vote winner, for David Cameron and Enda Kenny intervention now is simply the right thing to do.
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