THE marching season is in full swing in Northern Ireland right now and the tensions that surface annually around the 12th of July have the potential to become even more explosive this year, given the dearth of political leadership needed to keep a bung in the powder keg.
With the talks on forming a new Northern Ireland Assembly – to which MLAs were elected in March 2017 – seemingly, pushed back further until September, the worst extremes of both sides of the sectarian divide will be on show for the world to see at a time when the possibility of a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland being reinstated is dependent on how Brexit pans out.
There was never more a time than now when leadership needs to be shown by the parties within Northern Ireland, yet all we have is a growing political vacuum, which is allowing the men of violence to re-assert their presence and influence. Last Easter, we saw one of the consequences of this with the shooting dead of young journalist Lyra McKee while covering an incident involving the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and trigger-happy members of the so-called New IRA at the Creggan in Derry.
This horrified the people of the North who had enjoyed 21 years of peace in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and, while the leaders of the main political parties flocked to Derry to condemn the violence, they were called out by Fr Martin Magill, the priest who gave a homily at Lyra’s funeral service, when he poignantly asked why it took the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life before her to bring the political leaders together
Despite the standing ovation these remarks received from the congregation, who expected the political parties to engage constructively in the wake of this needless murder, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin remain entrenched in their positions in spite of the Irish and British governments brokering talks in recent months with the aim of getting the Northern Ireland Assembly up and running again. However, after a month of low-key engagement, no common ground was found and the talks were put back on the long finger.
Commenting last month on these talks, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin put the crux of the matter in context, stating: ‘The issues involved are serious and the lack of basic trust between the two parties which have created this impasse cannot be underestimated. However these issues are nothing compared to those which we overcame in the past.’
Encouragingly, some of the more moderate parties in the North made some gains in the recent local and European elections, reflecting voters’ impatience with the antics of the two main parties and the lack of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly. However, Sinn Féin and the DUP still rule the roost and are crucial to getting devolved government up and running again,
Unfortunately, with the extremists on the loyalist side in particular taking centre stage again during the marching season and taunting their nationalist counterparts, polemic passions become ignited and this can lead to more of the violence people thought had been left behind years ago. Without the required political leadership, the North is dangerously rudderless.