Lord Maginnis: It is high time Northern Ireland grew out of its childish sectarian politics

As one of the handful of Ulster Unionist Party negotiators responsible for the 1998 Belfast Agreement, I share in the general public’s sense of disappointment over the failures of the two main parties.

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 12:22 pm
A combination of the UK and Irish national flags

I also feel not a little anger at their chronic failure to work and behave responsibly.

Petty one-upmanship has been a strong and dominant feature of the DUP and Sinn Fein axis, and childish point-scoring has taken firm hold. Relationships between the two at the helm are an insult to the electorate. Crucial decision-making is mired in hopeless procrastination.

Angry words, whether they are over the Northern Ireland Protocol, Covid regulations, attendance at funerals or lockdown rules, pollute the political atmosphere. At a time when people from all backgrounds want clear-sighted direction, we get fudge, indecision, superficial strategic planning and costly mistakes.

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The vast middle ground of Northern Ireland voters demand better. They want an end to grand-standing and would dearly like to see some maturity from The Executive Office.

Demands from the DUP and the UUP for the head of the Chief Constable Simon Byrne was, in the view of many across our society, a scandalous politicisation of law and order. Despite denials to the contrary, thoughtless ramping up the rhetoric over the Protocol and the Storey funeral fiasco has directly contributed to recent scenes of street violence, sectarianism and confrontation.

I deplore the mentally bankrupt attitude of Arlene Foster and of Steve Aiken in respect of the PSNI and the Chief Constable. That is not to ignore the ratcheting up of tensions by the words uttered by Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Colum Eastwood and Naomi Long.

To predict a return to terrorist violence that we worked so hard to bring to a close in 1998 is grossly irresponsible, insensitive and wrong. Sane, sensible negotiations to make an Irish Sea Border or a hard border on this island unnecessary could have been achieved if we had seen some sensible contributions from Dublin and Westminster leadership. Instead, we got scare-mongering and shrill exchanges.

Hundreds of thousands of people want nothing more than an end to sectarian friction and yearn for normality. I fully understand their disappointment and anger. As a unionist, I now fear they will register their disgust in next May’s Assembly election by staying at home.

That would not be an answer but most of our frustrated voters want an end to mere sectarian headcounts.

They want our leaders to behave like responsible adults and not petulant youngsters.

We need to ‘call time’ on what passes for politics in Northern Ireland, and begin to think collaboratively and constructively to resolve real issues for families and our present pandemic-damaged economy. The age of the political ‘kindergarten’ needs to give way to grown-up politics that puts the needs of all our people first and foremost.

We cannot go on limping from crisis to crisis. Overall, our politics are being undermined and I have to hope that the handbrake will be applied before democracy itself becomes the casualty.

North and South of the border, the electorate took big decisions for all the right reasons in ’98.

Now, that same ‘can-do’ and confident spirit is needed to end the awful political incompetence.

• Baron Maginnis of Drumglass (Ken Maginnis) is a former UUP MP, who became an independent Lord in 2013

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