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1 September 2014 Edition

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When leadership matters

Editorial • Eagarfhocal

Unionist leaders could unlock their deadlock by taking the simple step of talking to nationalists.

ALBERT REYNOLDS, Taoiseach from February 1992 to November 1994, passed away after a long illness on 21 August, just ten days before the 20th anniversary of what has been hailed by the mainstream media as his greatest political achievement – his role in the Peace Process leading to the IRA’s complete cessation of military operations on 31 August 1994.

Albert Reynolds, like so many leaders, had his faults – but he was a leader.

As Gerry Adams said of him:

“Albert acted on the North when it mattered.”

Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other Sinn Féin figures have shown leadership “when it mattered”.

Sadly, that quality seems to be in short supply from those unionist politicians who describe themselves as leaders.

They have surrendered the leadership of unionism to unrepresentative fringe elements with little or no mandate.

Unlike the Apprentice Boys in Derry, they have failed to engage in meaningful dialogue with their nationalist neighbours to try and find a solution to the contentious issue of loyal order parades through or past nationalist areas.

Instead, they walked away from the Haass process on the issues of the legacy of the past, flags and parading.

They walked away from all-party talks, demanding that the Orange Order are allowed to walk along one disputed section of its north Belfast parade.

They then passed the buck to the stunningly unimpressive Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, with their call for an “investigative commission” (not the Parades Commission!) to try to “unlock the deadlock”.

Unionist leaders could unlock their deadlock by taking the simple step of talking to nationalists.

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson led a unionist delegation including representatives from the Orange Order and the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party, the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group and UKIP to meet the Secretary of State at Stormont on 22 July. The DUP leader said the unionist proposal was “not a one-sided approach”. Leadership was needed from nationalists and republicans, he said.

That, Mr Robinson, has not been wanting.

Nationalists and republicans have repeatedly held the door open for unionists to engage in worthwhile talks to try and resolve contentious parades and the issues of the past and flags.

And while the ‘combined unionist and loyalist leaders’ can form a united front to demand meetings with British ministers over parades, they don’t show the same political will in confronting British ministers over the Tory-led welfare cuts which have pushed people in England, Scotland and Wales further into poverty, homelessness, and even starvation and suicide.

Imposed by millionaire MPs from Westminster, these so-called “reforms” will cut a swathe through people’s benefit entitlements in all communities in the Six Counties – unionist as well as nationalist.

But where is the unionist leadership in all of this?

The Sinn Féin leadership is already there.

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