Stormont: is the hill worth climbing?

 And so it begins again. Stormont, for so long the home of the tumbling tumbleweed,  could well switch on its lights again,  have DUP exchanging cheerful greetings with Shinners over urinal stalls or cups of coffee, and the House on the Hill could shine its light to the world, showing how new life can be found even after apparent political death.

Why the optimism? Father Martin Magill saw it as linked to the coming-together of political opponents at St Anne’s Cathedral for the funeral service of Lyra McKee. And yet if you listen, neither Arlene Foster or Michelle O’Neill have changed their position. Michelle O’Neill insists that rights which apply elsewhere on these islands must be attended to, before the Stormont debating chamber rings once more to the shafts of wit and repartee. Arlene Foster says all parties should just plunge in there and make with the witticisms, and sure can’t we deal with those pesky rights on the side, maybe stay on for half-an-hour after everyone else has gone home and sort them.

At least to some degree the British and Irish governments appear to have been listening to Sinn Féin, who have urged them to face their responsibilities and call a meeting of the political parties involved.

That’s good – but I have an odd feeling that the Stormont train has already left the station.  In the two years that Stormont has been plunged in darkness, I haven’t heard a single nationalist/republican agitate for its return. Politicians yes, people no.

That’s because the focus for nationalists has shifted. Brexit in particular has impressed on nationalists, including middle-class conservative nationalists, that their future lies within the EU, not out sailing the high seas with the UK searching for brave new worlds ready to pass their riches into the British treasury in return for some beads and a mirror or two. Crucially, a percentage of the unionist community who voted Remain in the referendum also see the UK as a leaky old tub, with the part of the crew coming from north of Hadrian’s wall openly talking about mutiny.

Of course we want our schools, our hospitals, our local services running as efficiently and effectively as possible. But we know the possibility of that being realized directly relates to how much money the British Exchequer will push our way.  With the ravages that Brexit soft or hard will wreak on Britain, you may be sure that funding for vital services here will be cut even further in the coming years.

So yes,  nationalists and republicans will try to make this north-eastern corner work as efficiently as they can, for the benefit of all citizens. But when a state has been experiencing choppy waters and dangerous leaks of a political, social and not least financial kind for nearly one hundred years, it makes sense to check out the lifeboats and figure how best to get to dry European land.  

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