Posted By: July 20, 2013


Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, July 20, 2013
Dear Richard Haass,

WELCOME to the europe's longest running pantomime. (Since pantomime is rare in the
US, let us explain - it is a musical comedy which often includes a fairy godmother,
who grants everyone exactly what they wish for - that is the role which you have
just landed. The storyline also usually contains a pantomime horse. That part will
be played by Stormont.) Officially, you will be the independent chairman of an
all-party group (possibly including the Orange Order, which is not a party, but
never mind). Our First and Deputy First Ministers (FMDFM) say the group will "deal
with some (why not all?) of the most divisive issues here". It will "seek to bring
forward" (to whom is not stated) recommendations on "parades and protests, flags,
symbols, emblems and related matters stemming from the past" to "make the peace more
resilient". We have legislation governing all these issues, so the only agreement
needed is to uphold the law or change it. You could have told them that in a letter.
Roughly translated, FMDFM say that Stormont will make recommendations to itself
about issues which are already covered by its own laws. If Stormont decides to
reject its own recommendations, you may be here for some time. So make yourself
comfortable, while we offer what will hopefully be useful advice and information.
You must first learn the language, especially references to "the past" and "the
peace". "The past" does not mean the past, it just means about 30 years from 1969 to
1999. Nothing much happened before that - apart from 1690, 1916 and 1921. But they
are not the past. They are in the past, which is different. "The peace" is the
power-brokering process which began when the past ended. FMDFM's opinion that the
peace is not resilient enough suggests that they believe peace is merely the absence
of violence.

But peace is the absence of the causes of violence. The main cause is sectarianism
but "the peace" is based on accommodating, not eradicating, sectarianism. That
accommodation determined Stormont's structures and systems and forms the ideological
basis of all elected political parties, except the Green Party. Your job is to help
us promote acceptable, non-violent sectarianism. So instead of building peace, we
have merely accommodated the causes of violence. Political parties want nothing more
because that accommodation keeps them in power by creating a sense of on-going
uncertainty. This facilitates government by crisis (with golf tournaments in
between). Success is defined by solving self-made crises. In this context the
assembly cannot make the transition from power-brokering process to political
product because it has neither the need nor the inclination to be subject to public
scrutiny. The evidence lies in its largely failed Programme for Government. Thus
sectarianism protects political power by circumventing accountability. Recently the
Northern Ireland Audit Office reported that the housing executive (he) overpaid
maintenance contractors £18 million. At the same time a BBC investigation made
serious allegations about the relationship between the DUP and one contracting firm.
In a normal society both the DUP's social development minister and the he board
might be asked to stand aside pending investigation of both reports. But the DUP
used a sectarian-based blocking device to prevent a Stormont decision on its role,
thereby also letting the he board off the hook. Sectarianism lubricates the engine
of self-interest in government. The Sinn Fein-led Social Development Committee later
quizzed the minister on the BBC allegations, a process which John Manley in this
newspaper likened to a mauling by the Teletubbies. No party rocks the sectarian
boat. Not only has Stormont no opposition, it has an additional anti-democratic
mechanism whereby 30 members can veto the wishes of the assembly. Your task is to
support this denial of democracy, by accelerating the gentrification of
sectarianism. You may disagree with this analysis but you will notice that our
politicians' main concern is that rioting will damage our tourist industry, not that
sectarianism is wrong. This week's rioting helpfully diverted attention away from
the housing executive. No doubt, after many marathon sessions and late-night
sittings, you will come up with some momentous agreement which will require
Orangemen to hop on one foot past the Ardoyne shops or whatever. The secretary of
state can then speak of "a new Northern Ireland" for another six months.

You have written, with a wonderful degree of understatement, that the US invasion of
Iraq was "a poor choice, poorly implemented". You might like to reach the same
conclusion about the establishment of Stormont. Any other conclusion will require
the extensive use of your fairy godmother's magic wand.