This absentee landlord is ruining Northern lives
WITHIN hours of the deluge from hell that engulfed the north-west on Tuesday night, three Irish Government ministers were in the homes of Donegal promising immediate financial aid for the victims. A few miles across the border, there were no such powerful gestures. Instead, the DUP, SDLP and Sinn Féin traded petty insults over who was to blame for the infrastructure failures that saw many homes devastated.
Visiting Derry two weeks ago, I was struck by how downcast people were at the absence of a government. Northern friends told me of their utter frustration that they simply did not know who is running the country. Seasoned and decent campaigners remarked that they had simply no-one to lobby as the power now resides in London. As one friend remarked to me: ‘We are brilliant at doing elections – but we can’t do government!’
The inability of the two main Northern parties to form a government is truly tragic. And the situation isn’t helped by the reputation of the Northern Secretary, James Brokenshire. The MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup has been in the job for over a year and in the words of respected historian and ex-politician Brian Feeney: ‘You have to go back a long way to find a proconsul as directionless as the current specimen.’
Relatives of victims of the Troubles who campaigned to meet the effective governor of Northern Ireland walked out of a meeting with Brokenshire such was their frustration. No doubt Brokenshire has to attend to constituency matters in England. He won his seat in south London by promising to keep his local A&E unit open – it closed six months after he was elected.
He was nowhere to be seen west of the Bann this week as the heavens opened. Of course he was being cavalcaded around Dublin complete with Garda outriders as he was ferried from one power breakfast to another. This type of attention would turn anyone’s head.
Meanwhile, north of the border, phone-in radio shows were dominated this week by waiting lists in hospitals, which are at an all-time high. BBC presenters complained that they were unable to interview Brokenshire about the crisis – maybe he was too busy trying to re-open his local A&E unit or addressing Londoners’ concern over the silencing of Big Ben!
During this year’s UK general election, Brokenshire spent most of his time in his constituency; the only time he spoke about his work in Northern Ireland was to attack Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged links with IRA supporters. While this might be good point-scoring in the cosmopolitan suburbs, it doesn’t augur well for his role as mediator between Sinn Féin and the DUP.
His main political stance at the moment is his constant reiteration that there will not be any special status for Northern Ireland postBrexit. Such is the ignorance of the situation on this island that the BBC went into meltdown last week when one Irish politician claimed there were more border crossings between the Republic and the North than between the EU and all countries to the east of it! The BBC ‘reality check’ discovered it was true, by the way – 275 to 137 roads.
No wonder Northern Ireland seems adrift – let’s hope reality bites sooner rather than later.