Two faces of politics

Published Thursday, 24 July 2014
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The pictures from Stormont this week showed us how politics here still walks in and out of step.

In the space of just a few hours on Tuesday, we witnessed that joint acknowledgement of Rory McIlroy's Open victory as the First and deputy First Ministers stood together with someone capable of putting a smile on most faces.

But, in politics here, there is always a but ...

And it wasn't long before the next set of pictures showed the cracks and the contradictions at Stormont.

Those separate parades of mainly conflict-generation politicians to meetings with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers reminded us that it is still July and that this place is still stuck and mired in marching disputes.

"Boringly predictable," one close observer again commented, and he is right.

While the sun is shining on the Holywood hills and on that home course where McIlroy learned his golfing trade, a dark cloud still hangs over Stormont.

You have to look and see behind the smiles of Robinson and McGuinness in these set piece moments that are about celebrating success - whether in sport or jobs.

And, those separate meetings, one involving Sinn Fein and the Secretary of State and the other between Ms Villiers and the combined unionist leadership, once again showed us the fracture in the political relationship.

You don't need an X-ray image to see it.

We don't have partnership government, not when it comes to the hard bits and the unfinished business of peace - flags, parades, the past, commemorating, remembering, dissident threats and shared future.

And shared space is not just about those roads where marching happens or doesn't happen, but those mixed communities in some places plastered with flags, including of paramilitary origin.

You see this is McIlroy's hometown of Holywood.

And, look elsewhere at the murals with guns still painted in both communities.

Whether as a reminder of current threats or a remembering of past events, they don't fit with the peace.

Previously, I've made the argument for quiet remembering without the parade.

My point is you don't have to march to prove you haven't forgotten.

This applies to all sides and every side.

So, what is needed?

Robinson, McGuinness and the other political leaders in the same room with governments, churches, victims' representatives, police, marching orders, residents' representatives, loyalists, republicans and with international help.

On each of these unresolved issues, you need the widest possible conversation - structured and time limited and with outcomes and compromises that can be sold.

Someone once talked about being able to swallow in digestible chunks and that makes sense.

In August and October this year we will be talking about twenty years since the original ceasefires - and still we have divided communities, broken politics and unfinished business.

Read the newspapers, watch television and we see other parts of the world are falling apart in bloody and endless conflicts.

So, we're lucky - fortunate that real progress has been made.

But the work is not yet complete and still we need to fix and finish the peace.

© UTV News
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Brian Rowan
Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster who has reported on the major peace process developments - from ceasefires to political agreements.

Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist of the Year awards.

He is the author of four books and a regular commentator on UTV.

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