After Donaldson the question remains: how do we feed future generations of those who live in Northern Ireland?

As a Manchester City fan of many years standing (myself and just two others in Primary went blue when everyone else was going red) I know a rapid change in managers is not a sign of good health.

After many years of stability at the top the DUP is experiencing that sort of bewilderment you get when nothing you try quite sticks. It’s been a rough ride since Peter Robinson stepped down.

In spite of the drastic reasons for the latest departure there’s an odd continuity in the crisis that the DUP faces. They are the largest unionist party, yet that no longer confers the status it once did.

Pro union voters are no longer afraid of a United Ireland, not least because, in many cases none of them seem to believe that it is even remotely likely. Nor are they motivated by stopping Sinn Féin.

Yet, it is obvious that in spite of the hopes of many within organised nationalism this is leading neither to the collapse of the United Kingdom nor any new hankering for unity with the south.

Most folks of a pro union mindset (which is no longer the same as being unionist) have become indifferent to the sectarian appeals that kept the DUP in office, because of its failure to deliver.

David Hoey writing in the News Letter recently caught something important about the current malaise (and its universality beyond Northern Ireland to the populisms of Varadkar and Sturgeon):

Twenty-five years of Stormont provides little evidence that an approach justified as ‘progressive’ or offering populist measures or measures wrapped in a flag, delivers much by way of good government.

Talk of ownership of Lough Neagh doesn’t and won’t address underlying environmental damage. RHI was popular, until it wasn’t. Legislating for free parking at hospitals was a popular measure with an election in the offing, while eventually back in reality it is proving impossible to implement without taking funds away from frontline health.

Audit Office reports seem to forever draw attention to alarmingly similar failure – the concept of ‘‘learning from mistakes’ apparently alien to Stormont.Significant public policy failures are highlighted year after year, mandate after mandate.

Water and waste management, transport and infrastructure, education, justice (policing and prisons) and, most pressing of all, health and social care: all need more than money alone to fix issues that are ‘progressively’ debilitating our public services.

26 years after the Agreement, Hoey remains unusual in expressing material concern for the ‘commonwealth’, ie, those public spaces and services that serve all who live in Northern Ireland.

The DUP has been stripped of the privileges of majority status (if no longer majority rule), not simply by nationalism’s consolidation behind SF, but by the indifference of its former support.

In his long study of Italian regional democracy Robert Putnam noted an interesting correlation between the health of a civic society and its ability to succeed:

‘The regions characterized by civic involvement in the late twentieth century are almost precisely the same regions where co- operatives and cultural associations and mutual aid societies were most abundant in the nineteenth century, and where neighbourhood associations and religious confraternities and guilds had contributed to the flourishing communal republics of the twelfth century.

And although these civic regions were not especially advanced economically a century ago, they have steadily outpaced the less civic regions both in economic performance and (at least since the advent of regional government) in quality of government.’

As we noted in A Long Peace more than twenty years ago, in successful regions, the interface between electorate and politician was also more productive. Voters contacted their representatives on relatively few occasions, but when they did, they generally wanted to talk about policy issues.

Poorly functioning regions saw more frequent, but more futile contact. Voters were generally looking for favours of one kind or another, trying to access public sector funds and jobs, or hoping to secure advantageous decisions.

The questions to be asked are not for unionism, nationalism or others but on scale:ie, what sort of future do we want and how do we create an abundance in our undernourished commonwealth?

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