It’s breath-taking, the precise balance we get in the reporting of our North-East Nest politics. If you were to put two people on a seesaw (remember see-saws?), invariably one person would be a little lighter or a little heavier than the other. Or a lot. I’ve never seen a see-saw where both ends were exactly the same and the see balanced exactly with the saw.
In international politics, though, you get exquisite balance. During the Second World War, there was clearly much to be said for the views of the Allies on the one side and Hitler’s Germany on the other. Likewise when the United States won its independence: there was much to be said for George Washington and his revolutionaries, and much for the British redcoats who opposed them. Eighteenth-century France: the case for preserving the monarchy was evenly balanced alongside the revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille. And more recently, courtesy of President Donald Trump, we know the white racists in Charlottesville, Virginia had many good people in their ranks, just as the protesters had.
If you’re still reading and haven’t flung your laptop at the wall, you’ll have twigged that I’m being ironic. Of course Nazi Germany didn’t have moral equivalence with the Allied countries. Of course the American revolutionaries were right in their opposition to imperialist Britain. Marie Antoinette’s remark about people eating cake sums up the arrogance and corruption of the French monarchy. And anyone who thinks that there’s much to be said for white racists is a moral imbecile.
All of which brings me back to our present political impasse. At the time of writing, the DUP and Sinn Féin can’t agree and form an Executive – and more than one pundit has exasperation about this fact. Even moderate unionist commentators have trained their fire on both sides. For example, a Belfast newspaper commentator recently visited Derry and wondered in his column, since Derry has transformed itself from a cauldron of conflict into a peaceful city, why can’t the DUP and Sinn Féin get together and settle their differences? Give and take. Push and pull. Compromise and agree.
This argument, alas, fails miserably when we apply the see-saw test. It presumes that the parties on either side are equally poised, one as bad as the other. When I read that kind of analysis of our politics, I find myself wanting to start munching paper as well.
Since 2007, did republicans and unionists make the same effort to effect reconciliation? Did Peter Robinson show the same courage and willingness to step outside his comfort zone that Martin McGuinness demonstrated again and again? Have unionist politicians, so emphatic in their condemnation of republican violence, spoken out strongly and fearlessly against loyalist paramilitary groups, the way Martin McGuinness denounced those republicans who killed PSNI officer Ronan Kerr?
Were you to ask them, unionist politicians would no doubt find reasons why republican violence was somehow worse than loyalist/unionist violence, and why McGuinness’s meeting with the queen didn’t require a unionist response.
But we’re not talking about unionist politicians here. We’re talking about journalists and commentators, who are supposed to be in the front rank of those who speak truth to power. And the sad and dispiriting thing is, they are not speaking the truth about the reason for our collapsed Assembly. Even leaving aside the RHI scandal, the repeated refusal of journalists to look at the impasse, trace its roots, make a decision as to where blame lies, and then speak out, is depressing. Waving a placard of a see-saw isn’t my idea of journalism.