When will we undo the undoing?

There was the smell of rain, through sodden duffle coats, pressing on hand-me-down jumpers over skimpy vests that guarded stringy scapulars against our puny chests.

That’s how I remember the mid to late seventies; that and the never-ending gloom that spilled out of the radio every morning when the latest atrocity that happened north of our border was relayed to us.

And the grown ups would tut-tut and say things like “shockin’, isn’t it” and send us on our way to school, cossetted from the horrors that were happening just a couple of hundred miles up the road.

There’s nothing worse than having completed a task and ticked it off your list, than going back a few minutes later and seeing all the great work undone. So many things that had been considered done and dusted and securely fastened onto the sideboard of human progress, have over the past few months, become quickly undone.

Maybe it is our naivete to believe that the mistakes made in history will not be repeated, that when a society progresses to a stage of respect and enhanced humanity, it will not return to that whence it came.

Once we thought that this new brave Europe would never allow the horrors of war on our doorstep, but Bosnia changed all that; we never thought we’d see millions on the march from terror and genocide, yet again that is now commonplace on our news, stuck in between the latest outrage and whatever the Kardashians are doing.

We thought too that the protection of human rights and dignity, so hard fought for, would forever remain enshrined in the doctrine of our elected leaders; that if anything, would only be added to and improved. But that too has become endangered.

Perhaps the greatest sadness of the last year has been the regularity with which we are seeing many of the things we hold sacred, be untangled, undone, thrown upon the ground, and shattered. Decades and decades of human rights and dignity and respect, the human equivalent of the destruction of the ancient temples. A rolling back of the centuries from the serene to the savage.

Here in Ireland we have felt buffeted from it all. Our island state sees us kept remote from the physical, but our openness to the world sees us absorb the culture of the world. We have a lot of our own undoing over the past decade, and the vast majority of us wore, and still wear the sackclothes of austerity to match that.

But still this week, it is depressing to hear that there is once again uncertainty in Northern Ireland.

Those of us who grew up in an era when the morning news bulletins were full of news about bombs under buses, and petrol bomb attacks, shudder at any development that creates a vacuum, that may allow relations to deteriorate again. And this is nothing compared to those who actually lived through that time at the epicentre of the tension, those whose trip to school every day was far more perilous than ours.

There is nothing to suggest this week that we are headed back into those bleak days, but is it still disheartening to see “normal government” fail.

What is needed is a cooling-down period, when people have time to think about what they say before they say it, when the considered will have more importance than the smart soundbite.

The time is ripe now for someone to mediate between the sides, to knock sense into both sides.

This is going to be a strange few months, starting with the inauguration next week of President Trump. And in about eight weeks, negotiations over Brexit will become clearer. This is not a time that either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland can afford to be distracted by an electoral process that will probably yield little difference to the results of last May. With both jurisdictions fighting to preserve some of their dignity in a post-Brexit world, this is not a time for an unnecessary ballot.

All it will do is provide a platform for more fuel to be thrown on the fire. Let’s hope commonsense prevails so that our eyes are not taken off the bigger picture.

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