I don’t know if you caught Alex Kane’s tweet yesterday about the BBC’s Sunday Sequence: “Sunday Sequence is probably the most challenging, interesting, informative and rounded programme on Radio Ulster.” To which Martin McGuinness within minutes had responded: “I propose an amendment to @AlexKane tweet re Sunday Sequence,drop ‘probably.’’
Both men are right, and not just because I was on the programme yesterday. The presenter William Crawley is head and shoulders above other presenters on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster – maybe even in Ireland. He’s articulate, he’s fearless and he’s always courteous. Plus he possesses an intelligence that leaves his peers in the starting blocks. You don’t need to think long about some of the programmes that Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster serves up daily to conclude that the vision of the management in Ormeau Avenue is seriously purblind. It’ll be too late to lament his value if Crawley one of these days jumps ship and goes to London, or better still Dublin.
Anyway, enough of that. Yesterday’s Sunday Sequence had a look at the proposed Shared Future being served up by Stormont. The initiative has been greeted with exasperated sighs from a number of directions but frankly I’ve little patience with that response. With people who say “But there’s nothing new here – we proposed that way back whenever!”. Or with parties who gurn about not having been invited into the shaping of the policy. Yes, maybe they did and maybe they should have been, but are they more concerned with their own self-importance or with the initiative itself? So what if it should have been implemented years ago? The past can’t be changed so let’s focus on where we are now and what we can do.
Personally I cannot see what’s not to like about 10,000 work placements for young people, 10 shared education campuses, 100 shared summer schools, 10 shared neighbourhood developments. No, the flags issue, the parades issue, the dealing-with-the-past issue – none of these has been directly addressed yet. But what has been proposed tackles the same problem: we live in a society that’s divided by mental razor-wire and it’s time we produced the wire-cutters.
I have just one suggestion for those engaged in this task: let our political leaders lead. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that leaders are most effective when they model the behaviour they look to cultivate in their followers. So let’s have the Stormont MLAs and Executive dropping off their children at shared education campuses, let’s have our politicians organising and attending their own shared summer schools, let’s see them living in shared neighbourhoods. Because as things stand, the example some of them are setting in Stormont encourages not the best in society but the worst.
Check it out on TV. Watch any DUP politician, up to and including the First Minister, when s/he is on-screen with a Sinn Féin colleague. What does their body-language say, how often do they establish so much as eye-contact with their colleague? Rather what we get is “ I may be standing beside this person but I really really don’t like it and frankly I detest them.”
OK, I’ll go out on a limb and say that most DUP politicans in Stormont act like this because they’re fearful of their electorate and play to the lowest common denominator: ‘There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader’. That’s the charitable explanation. The less charitable is that they really do detest their partners in the Executive. In either case it’s a bit daft to urge your constituents to work towards more civilized cross-community relations and even friendship when every time you appear on TV, you send exactly the opposite message.