Posted By: July 04, 2014

Newton Emerson. Irish News ( Belfast). Thursday, July 3, 2014

NORTHERN Ireland needs more politicians in hock to business interests. That is the
conclusion the sponsors of the peace process have effectively reached and they have
almost as good as said so.

Even before the failure of the Haass talks, Sinn Féin has been screaming at the
British, Irish and American governments to "get involved", by which it means 'lean
on the unionists'.

This call has been rebuffed by London, Dublin and now by Washington, which has been
the ultimate underwriter of the peace process since its inception.

Last week the Obama administration sent an envoy to Northern Ireland ahead of
all-party talks on parading. Victoria Nuland is the US State Department's assistant
secretary for Europe and Eurasia. Speaking to Radio Ulster's Inside Politics, she
dismissed further "outside" hand-holding until the Stormont parties can show signs
of independent agreement. "It's a moment for leadership on all sides," Nuland said.
"The responsibility for Northern Ireland's future has to rest here and has to rest
with the ability of the party leaders from all across Northern Ireland being able to
work well together, being able to compromise with each other. "Having talked to some
of the civil society leaders I think that's what the people of Northern Ireland are

The platitudinous diplomacy of these remarks should not mask their significance.
Washington, like London and Dublin, has decided the only deal that will stick is one
hammered out among our own representatives. Furthermore, Washington expects the
pressure for this to come from 'civil society'.

Sinn Féin can scream all it likes for outside help. What the outside world is
waiting for is everyone else in Northern Ireland to start screaming at Sinn Féin and
the DUP as the cost of another marching season bites. This message is somewhat
confused by the attempt to give 'civil society' a formal role in the political
process through the Civic Forum. That doomed debating chamber's reserved seating for
the quango and 'community' sectors ended up defining civil society as the enablers
and beneficiaries of our political malaise, rather than those motivated to transform

However, this is not what America means by civil society. America means business,
metaphorically and literally. Business leaders were the only group Nuland named,
pointedly adding "we are deeply invested in Northern Ireland's success. We're also
financially invested". She then alluded to the disastrous commercial and
reputational damage caused by contentious parades. Nobody looking in on Northern
Ireland can understand why our leaders tolerate this annual chaos, which undoes all
their economic work through the rest of the year. Anywhere else, politicians could
not ignore the cost to business.

The reasons our politicians can ignore that cost include the success of a
lowest-common-denominator electoral strategy and the cushion afforded by a huge
public sector. But another key reason - and the one most easily changed - is the
unique dearth of corporate political donations. Despite what rumours and scandals
imply, political parties in Northern Ireland receive no serious funding from
business. Every Stormont party raises almost their entire stated income from the
salaries and expenses of office holders.

Recent debate over ending donor secrecy was dismissed as theoretical by political
figures because so few contributions ever exceed the £7,500 threshold for

At the start of this week, there was a combined plea from the Northern Ireland
Camber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and the CBI to sort parading out
"once and for all". It was an unusually forthright intervention but nobody at
Stormont needs to fear it any more than they did the Civic Forum. In fact, business
fears our politicians. Too much of what passes for our private sector is still in
hock to public contracts to risk antagonising the executive.

Business also fears a deeply divided electorate. Would you be happy working for or
purchasing from a company that funded 'the other side'? Across the western world,
commercial donations to political parties are viewed as a necessary evil at best and
a sinister corruption of democracy at worst.

The donor secrecy debate showed Northern Ireland has internalised this squeamishness
despite having no business donors worth noting. Yet the ambivalence of our leaders
to trashing the economy every year suggests our purity in this regard comes at a
high and poorly understood price.

Whether we feel it personally or not, the marching madness hits us all in the
pocket. Would it be so bad if our employers and traders reached into their pockets
and openly bought themselves some influence?