Thursday 15th February 2018
In 1998 Northern Ireland chartered a new course, a course which at its core was designed to steer us away from our turbulent history. The vision birthed by David Trimble and John Hume under intense pressures, both internally and externally, gave us an agreement that for the first time in my life, revealed a vision of a shared future filled with hope.
Both Trimble and Hume had grown up years before me and been exposed to different versions of the same passage of history. Whilst fiercely loyal to their respective political persuasions, they recognised that the solution had to be an agreed one, and for democracy to prevail, respect and reciprocity would be essential.
Twenty years on, narrow political agendas and lack of respect have corralled us into an unhealthy arena that sadly, many of us recognise only too well. The unacceptable Stormont stalemate has been created because we are being fed a diet of fear from certain political parties and some areas of the media. Some commentators believe the end is nigh, and sadly look to be taking delight in that narrative.
But I believe the spirit of 1998 is not dead. Politics seems to be the only area of life that we still seem unable to work together in. I believe in “HOPE” not fear. When we allow fear to be our standard bearer we neglect our responsibility as the custodians of the future and fail our children. I believe we should be striving for what “WE CAN BE”, not for what we are being told we are!
I recently spoke to a young Irish Language activist when her school visited Stormont. In a very courteous manner she challenged me as to why I was opposed to an Irish Language act. I recognised her passion for the subject and respected her desire to achieve her aim, however I pointed out that we are all subject to our own passions and areas of priority. I described the atrocious rates of Mental Health in Northern Ireland, which are some of the worst in Europe and explained why it was my intention and desire to seek reform for the provision of services and support for sufferers. When Michelle O’Neill, Health Minister, refused my repeated calls to establish an independent Champion for Mental Health I did not throw my toys out of the pram, but rather I knew that my only route to achieving this would be through democratic debate and persuasion.
The past 14 months of stalemate has been littered with secrecy, rumour and back room conversations. In 2018 the people of this country deserve the full detail of what is being asked and what may be expected as part of any solution. It’s time for transparency and full disclosure. As political leaders we need to show that although we may have different priorities, democracy and debate are the only tools that should be used.