Could you find worse politicians than those in the North? Well, actually, yes

Usually you have to be good at politics to be prime minister – then there’s Teresa May

DUP (leader Arlene Foster, above) ‘could have used its leverage in Westminster to design a Brexit that delivered unprecedented opportunities to Northern Ireland’  Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

DUP (leader Arlene Foster, above) ‘could have used its leverage in Westminster to design a Brexit that delivered unprecedented opportunities to Northern Ireland’ Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Is there a place in the western world worse served by its politicians than Northern Ireland?

Last week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll reflected a colossal public disaffection with politicians in Northern Ireland, principally those from the two dominant parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP.

Huge majorities – of all voters and, strikingly, in the two parties’ own communities – disapprove of their own leaders. Unionists and nationalists alike are opposed to the Brexit policy of the DUP; similarly, both communities – including rather more nationalists than unionists – want Sinn Féin to represent them at Westminster, a point especially relevant in a week that saw majorities of two and four on vital votes.

Of course this would require Sinn Féin to get off the high horse of abstentionist principle. But hasn’t the last three and a bit decades been a series of careful dismounts by the party?

The myopia of the DUP is worse. Sinn Féin is refusing to help; the DUP is making things a lot worse

Despair at their politicians unites voters from all backgrounds. But is it any wonder? We are now more than two years without an Assembly and Executive at Stormont, collapsed by Sinn Féin on the pretext of a hooky scheme to promote the use of green energy.

It looks to me like the party had other reasons to collapse the institutions – they didn’t want to execute the transition in leadership from Martin McGuinness to Michelle O’Neill while in office. They were also fed of up the frequently sectarian-smelling obstructionism of the DUP. I am not sure the party really wants Northern Ireland to work as a political entity.

The moving of the goalposts since to an Irish-language act, same-sex marriage and abortion rights for the North deepens my suspicion on the point – as does the party’s constant drum-banging for a unity referendum.

If you wanted a consensual model of Irish unity, would you really be demanding a referendum and gloating about how inevitable it is at a time of heightened unionist anxiety about the future of the union between Great Britain and the North?

Sinn Féin says that Brexit is an existential crisis for the North. And that it won’t do anything about it. Hands up if you see a bit of a contradiction there.

Borderlands

A special investigation on Brexit & the Border Read More

The myopia of the DUP is worse. Sinn Féin is refusing to help; the DUP is making things a lot worse.

It could have used its leverage in Westminster to design a Brexit that delivered unprecedented opportunities to Northern Ireland – the best of both economic worlds, with a foot in both the EU and the UK.

Instead it failed to find its way out from under its ancestral fears and chose to see constitutional betrayal behind every bush, pandering to its base rather than trying to lead it.

Disaster for North

Offered a golden opportunity, the DUP confidence and supply clout at Westminster has turned out to be a disaster for the North – something now explicitly recognised not just by the electorate in the North at large, but by the DUP’s own voters. What a political failure.

Finola Meredith’s column on these pages this week about the North – which she described as sectarian, stunted and dysfunctional – was deeply depressing. The North’s politics show no sign it has the vision or ability to move society away from these ills.

And yet, the answer to the question at the top of this column is, of course: yes, there is somewhere worse served by its politicians than the North – the rest of the United Kingdom.

It’s hard to think of another person who rose to such high office but who failed so spectacularly when they got there as Theresa May. It is an unfortunate quirk of history that someone so lacking in judgment, vision and – most of all, perhaps – political ability should become the country’s leader when someone with those qualities was so desperately required.

Were Labour led by any of its previous five leaders, it would surely be out of sight of the Conservatives in the opinion polls now rather than trailing them

Normally, you have to be quite good at politics to become prime minister. Not this one. The haplessness of failing to square off her own attorney general – into whose hands she then placed her fate – in advance of concluding a deal with Jean Claude Juncker on Monday evening was quite breathtaking. You should have heard the expletives in Government Buildings in Dublin.

And she’s hardly the worst of them. Her Brexit secretary closed a debate in Westminster on Thursday with “I commend this motion to the House” and then voted against it. The chief whip – the chief whip – abstained. How did these bozos ever run an empire?

It is the great British misfortune that at the time when the country most needed a credible party of government leading the opposition, the Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Readers can make up their own minds about Corbyn, an old-style revolutionary socialist whose choice in international comrades runs from Iran, to Hezbollah, to the wreckers of Venezuela to the pre-ceasefire IRA.

I am not sure there is any great unifying political philosophy binding his positions together other than reflexive anti-westernism, anti-capitalism and especially anti-Americanism.

That’s fair enough; lots of people share some or many of these attitudes, though they tend to do so from the material comfort and within the political freedoms that western countries routinely provide.

But what seems indisputable is that the attitudes and the policies which spring from them undermine Corbyn and his party as a viable government in the UK.

Were Labour led by any of its previous five leaders, it would surely be out of sight of the Conservatives in the opinion polls now rather than trailing them. Labour would be functioning as a government-in-waiting. This would in turn keep all but the most swivel-eyed of Brexiteers in line.

There are many failures of government and of politicians of all parties here, and from them spring social and structural problems which ail our country and our public life. But we should perhaps observe that in comparison to the nearby competition, they could be an awful lot worse.

BREXIT: The Facts

Read them here
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.