We’re taught to demonise more than bonfires

Is hope for a new kind of politics in Northern Ireland lost?

After the latest round of Stormont talks broke down, politicians left the stage for summer. It’s July, so we do what we always do: row over what we consider culture.

Ahead of this year’s Twelfth celebrations, a coffin plastered with a face of the late Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was found on a bonfire in east Belfast.

Whereas Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has called for an end to an “annual display of hate”, DUP leader Arlene Foster claims there has been a campaign to “demonise” bonfires.

Those who wage this campaign against such celebrations, Mrs Foster said, should “dial down the rhetoric.” That’s coming from the queen of rhetoric, who not long ago branded Sinn Féin “crocodiles”.

Probably the most popular word in our politicians’ vocabulary is respect; everyone wants it, yet few seem to show it.

There exists a culture of demonisation across Northern Ireland. Advertently or inadvertently, this is manifested at the top of our society and spreads throughout every level: from the actions of MLAs at the Assembly, the placement of political posters and emblems on bonfires, to the ‘let it be’ approach to paramilitary flags flying in supposed shared spaces.

Lack of political leadership allows an environment where it is commonplace to demonise the ‘other’.

We’ve built the physical ‘peace’ walls to prove it — more have been raised since the 1998 agreement than previously existed during the Troubles.

Since the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive in January, goodwill ‘on the hill’ has been virtually non-existent. Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster shook hands at Martin McGuinness’ funeral in March; but that’s about it.

Nothing came of former US President Bill Clinton’s advice on that same day, to finish the job politicians started with the Good Friday Agreement.

At Stormont, what — according to reports — has been the sticking point in the recent talks? Not the scandal surrounding the renewable energy scheme (RHI) which preceded the fall of the Executive in the first place; it’s the Irish language. Sinn Féin calls for parity are rebuffed by the DUP as an attempt at “cultural supremacy”.

By the way, where’s the outright condemnation of loyalist burning of nationalist effigies this week? That’s a hate crime in most people’s book.

Meanwhile, the real world gets on with real world things. Who cares if we don’t have an Executive, if we don’t get a chance to influence Brexit and what it means for the Irish border?

Whatever happened to Stormont’s strategy for tackling poverty, homelessness; the pledges by both the DUP and Sinn Féin last year to create 50,000 jobs?

Keeping the other ‘side’ out of government takes priority, it seems.

Words, actions and inactions of politicians have repercussions. If they won’t work together, how can or should citizens aspire to live together?

Political leadership is missing, at least to show us that a new Northern Ireland is possible. If found, please return to Stormont.


Originally published at Northern Slant.