There is only so long you can sit on the toilet or the sofa, thinking about the look on Nigel Dodds’s face when he realized what the North Belfast returns were telling him. Schadenfreude (pleasure in the pain of others, Virginia – what are they teaching in the schools these days?) is a pleasant emotion to wallow around in, but you can’t go on wallowing forever. A point comes when the wallowing must cease, and you must stand up and face life again.
So now what? The main problem still facing nationalists/republicans is, as ever, unionists. But keep in mind this: there are unionists and unionists.
There are those such as the unlamented Dodds, who allow the past to get inside him and fester. Like hundreds of others, he suffered during the Troubles, and there was indeed something chilling about the planned attack on his life while visiting his young son in hospital. But equally – more than equally – the lethal attack on Maire Drumm when she was a patient in hospital was more than cruel and merciless. Sympathy is due in both cases, but if we allow our pain to fester and grudges to dominate our thinking, we’re shackling ourselves to the wall of the past.
What so many of us forget is, these are our countrymen and women. Yes, I know, I know, Virginia. They do silly things like talking about Ulster-Scots as a language and doing exclusively Scottish dancing when they’re not Scottish. But sure none of us is perfect. The fact is, unionists are Irish – as Irish as you or I, even if they don’t want to acknowledge it. So we need to be as concerned about their future as about that of anyone living on this island.
OK. So how do we get to create a future that balances our past? Well, we don’t spend time telling the other side “You were in the wrong and engaged in murder. We were right and engaged in defence of the state.” Or vice versa. Because you know if you do that you’re not trying to win a convert to your way of thinking, you’re intent on rubbing in the bitterness you feel. Which may feel like fun at the time, but you’ll ultimately pay for it.
As the parties gather at Stormont in the post-Christmas days, they should be thinking both short-term and long-term about the future.
Short-term would be, what can we do now? We share a small space of land for the few short years that we live: it makes sense to create conditions where we all get the best possible out of that limited time and space. This involves civility, humanity – treating those we disagree with us as fellow human beings, with wives or husbands and families, hopes and dreams and problems and frustrations just the same as us. When you lay that kind of foundation, you’ve a much, much better chance of success.
In that spirit, the immediate problems of health and education should be addressed, as well as the cultural matters like language and music and poetry, which are such jewels in the crown of this place, and whatever steps are necessary to improve in all these matters should be taken. As has been pointed out, it’s not an either/or. We can speak Irish and also have a decent health service. It’s not as if there’s a green patient and an orange patient.
With all this in mind, we should seek out possible solutions and ACT ON THEM with all possible speed. We know what saying one thing and doing another looks like- just glance across the channel. We’re better than that and smarter than that. Let’s say we’re going to do good stuff and then do good stuff. Enough with the bitterness.