It always interesting going up to Stormont. I find myself impressed by the building on the hill, as I’m intended to be. Mussolini did the same thing when Milan railway station was built – big and brutal and in your face. Ditto Stormont: the mile-long avenue and the big architecture says ‘We’re boss and we’re here to stay’.
It’s also interesting to talk to MLAs. And before anybody says I talk only to Shinner MLAs, not so: I’ve interviewed John McAllister at Stormont and I tried to get Basil McCrea to do a Periscope interview but he simply didn’t respond (despite affable exchanges to that point). And of course I’ve interviewed politicians of every stripe, from Jim Allister to a leading member of eirigi, for my book ‘Whose Past Is It Anyway?’ (What do you mean, you haven’t a copy, Virginia? Get off your rear and order it from Amazon TODAY.)
A couple of things struck me during my interview with John O’Dowd, which was considerably longer than this Periscope clip. One was that as Minister for Education, his biggest problem is not with unionists but with unionists and nationalists. That is to say, with a class of unionists and a class of nationalists who insist on providing academic selection, despite research throughout the world showing that non-selective education is better for everyone. You could call the defenders of the 11+ ‘cross-community’, which goes to show you cross-community is sometimes a ball and chain.
I was also struck by the fact that the talks appear to be going somewhere. That’s not the general public mood but I got the impression that while there are all sorts of possibilities for derailment, there is a will within unionism and republicanism to make the institutions work. Given that the alternative is total control by a Tory government in London, that’s something to be grateful for.
I’m also surprised that it is entirely possible that we could have an election before Christmas. Bad time of year for it, yes, but supposing the talks emerge with agreement, do you think the politicians will sit on their hands and let the optimism generated seep away? I think not.
Anyway, judge for yourselves. For what it’s worth, I believe John O’Dowd is one of the most able politicians in Sinn Féin and in Stormont. See what you think. And note how I pretend at the end to be electronically illiterate. Yes, Virginia, I did say ‘pretend’. ..