It used to be thought that nothing could progress during July, because of the tensions in communities during the “marching season”. Traditional thinking has been that political progress must be switched off at the end of June, and everything suspended to allow the sectarian marching fest.
However, with victories secured by residents’ associations across the north securing basic rights of citizens to live free from the worst excesses of coat trailing, those excuses are gone. July has become a new normal, an abnormal normal. There is nothing to prevent politicians doing their jobs.
Our abnormal normal July is the time when community ugly becomes OK. Yes, for many who have grown up in an Orange culture it is a day out, a bit of craic and a celebration. But we cannot pretend that at its heart it is about anything other than the last vestiges of supremacy. Otherwise why would bonfires routinely feature effigies of nationalist and republican politicians? Why else would tower block sized bonfires mean more than safety, environment or law?
This year we go into the summer with the ugliest of contexts. There is a flag assault taking place which is the most hate filled and offensive in recent memory. Flags stating support for the one member of the British Parachute Regiment charged with the killings on Bloody Sunday have been erected in most loyalist estates across the North since May. They are now gaining in proliferation alongside the flags being erected for the 12th. This is not culture.
Bonfires that burn effigies of nationalists and republicans alongside statements of support for a British soldier who is charged with killing Catholic civilians do not add up to a cultural festival. Unless that is a festival of hate.
In this context it would be utterly wrong of politicians to walk away from talks to resolve the political impasse. Of course, there will be infection from the toxic environment currently festering on our streets. It is the responsibility of those elected to face into those challenges, rather than swerve them.
However, the two governments need called out in their stance of pretending to be apart and above our local environment.
This British government has fostered the environment where those flags are permissible. By undermining the rule of law through the elevation of the interests of veterans to the detriment of the rights of victims, each loyalist housing estate that proclaims support for Soldier F is echoing the words of ministers for the armed forces, home secretaries, secretaries of state and the Prime Minister. They have individually and collectively cheer led for state immunity from investigation and prosecution, despite the clear and undeniable evidence of wrongdoing.
Between that and the Tory/DUP push me pull you axis of pseudo power one could feel sympathy for Simon Coveney as he tries to pretend to have an equal partner in co-guarantor status for the Good Friday Agreement in the shape of Karen Bradley. But he should be calling out the evident imbalances threatening the Good Friday Agreement. His pretence of diplomatic “nothing to see here” is part of the problem.
But no matter the unlikelihood of progress, the parties and the two governments need to persist. Breaking up the pretence of July’s Omerta may contribute to an environment of courage and possibility. Going home certainly is not an option.