18 May 2006 Edition
Forming an Executive is the real political issue
Last Tuesday's proceedings at Stormont were an irrelevant side-show to the real political business that needs to be addressed, which is the establishment of a fully functioning Executive and the return of the all-Ireland architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.
There is no point in public representatives sitting in the Stormont chamber debating issues over which they have no power. Sinn Féin has refused to participate in a pantomime, designed to obscure political reality and which is a disservice to the electorate.
The capitulation of the SDLP on this issue would be remarkable were it not par for the course. That party's spokespersons have said they would not participate in a sham assembly without powers but they did just that at the very first opportunity. The SDLP move can only serve to provide succour to the reactionary instincts of the DUP and reduce the political pressure for that party to do real political business in terms of forming an Executive.
Debates in the Hain assembly will not change how British direct rule ministers make decisions affecting people's lives in the Six Counties. The disastrous state of the economy there is one of the key issues that a real Assembly and Executive must urgently address.
But if anything throws into sharp focus the need for political progress it is the brutal murder of Michael McIlveen. The death of the Ballymena teenager is a direct result of a poisonous climate of sectarianism. This is something which must be faced up to by all those with political responsibility. To do so means showing real political leadership, demonstrating by example and confronting deep-seated prejudices within society. A failure by political leaders to agree to work with each other at a political level will send a green light to the bigots, perpetuate sectarianism and leave open the possibility of further tragedies.
Ordinary people want to see the political institutions up and running. They want issues such as the economy, agriculture, education and water charges dealt with by people who understand local conditions.
Furthermore there is a belief that agreement can be reached at a political level between nationalism and unionism in relation to forming an Executive. With a political landscape transformed from that of just a few years ago, there is hope and there is optimism.
As the leading nationalist party in the Six Counties and one which is growing rapidly in the 26 Counties, Sinn Féin has a clear political project. It is looking to the future and seeks to do business with the representatives of unionism in the interests of all our people from whatever political tradition they come. The question now is whether the DUP has the courage and the capacity to allow the hopes of the community it represents to be realised.