Time to drain away the ill-feeling like the waters in Lago di Vagli

The Italian village of Fabbriche di Careggine,which was ‘disappeared’ along with its residents and makes an appearance every few years

In the Tuscany region of Italy, just north of Lucca, there is a hydroelectric dam at Lago di Vagli, constructed in the 1940s to maintain and supply water reserves to the wider region. The dam was built on top of a village, Fabbriche di Careggine, which was ‘disappeared’ along with its 146 residents all of whom were re-housed between 1947 and 1953.

Now, every 10 years or so, the dam is drained to allow for essential maintenance work on the dam infrastructure and, when that happens, the original village resurfaces, with its dusty little church, beautiful humpback bridge and graveyard. Upwards of a million people flocked to see Fabbriche di Careggine when last it was revealed. After the maintenance work the reservoir is filled again, the dam continues to supply the necessary water and the village disappears.

It seems to me that the dam is re-booted, maintained and allowed to get on with its intended function, almost like pressing giant ‘control-alt-delete’ buttons.

The Tuscan hills and the abandoned village may offer a lesson for right here at home.

The sad but unavoidable truth is that since the Fresh Start agreement heralded the establishment of the May 2016 Executive and Assembly, Stormont was not functioning properly. All of the ingredients were in place for a successful spell of effective devolved government. The two biggest parties had been returned with enhanced mandates, the system of government had been streamlined and the Fresh Start agreement pointed to a new era of co-operation and common purpose. Ministers were talking of joint working across departments and in the business community there was a genuine sense that a page had been turned on dysfunction with a brighter future to come.

But all of that disappeared in a series of political mishaps, mishandling and ultimately allegations of corruption. Meanwhile too many big decisions were put on the long finger, transparency was replaced with a closed government which avoided public and media scrutiny, and sadly disrespect and a plain old meanness came to characterise politics and too many politicians.

It was difficult around Christmas to imagine just what purpose would be served by an election, and yet that's where we ended up. The full ramifications of the outcome of the poll will be digested in the days and weeks to come but right now among the public and throughout civic society, there is a demand for a re-boot of the institutions, time for the ‘control-alt-delete’ buttons to be pressed at the same time.

When 18 per cent more people came out to vote last Thursday they were not voting for direct rule, they were demanding that parties go back to a more settled devolution that actually delivers for people.

There is now a political and even moral duty for those with the biggest mandates, and all parties who choose to take a seat at the Executive table, to work out differences and do what they can to herald a new era in local politics. Time to drain away the ill-feeling like the waters in Lago di Vagli so the founding principles of the Good Friday Agreement are there again for all to see.

Just before the election a range of representative bodies from the business, academic and third sectors made a joint call for politicians to work together to restore a functioning devolved Assembly and Executive. The group righty pointed out that looming large over Northern Ireland is the impact of Brexit and the imminent negotiations around the terms of the UK leaving the EU.

The threat to our economy, to our relations with the rest of the island, and in many ways to our way of life is real and it is potentially fatal to our hopes of economic growth. Brexit, almost above every other political considerations, is the biggest issue which demands a return to the Assembly and a strong voice for Northern Ireland in the negotiations. That voice is needed in London, Dublin, Brussels and Strasbourg.

I admire Nicola Sturgeon speaks up for Scotland on this issue but I get a bit envious too. Where is our advocate?

At the outset of this election we were promised a ‘brutal’ campaign and some parties then set about delivering just that. Is it possible now that post election we can move to a phase of politics where brutality and disrespect is put aside?

The joint call I mentioned above also focussed on the need for the devolved institutions to be used “for the greater good” and set out the virtues of compromise, mutual respect and sensitivity to be shown to all communities.

There are specific policy issues which are urgent, not least corporation tax, a skills strategy, infrastructure investment and the implementation of the necessary reforms around health and social care. However we wont even get to the stage of arguing about these if we are under a detached direct rule administration.

The public’s part of the democratic deal is that we vote, politicians deliver. Well, greater numbers came out to vote last week than in the last 20 years, so we have kept our side of the bargain. Time for a re boot on the hill and a new era in local politics. It's what we all deserve.

:: Brendan Mulgrew is managing partner of MW Advocate. Twitter: @brendanbelfast.

:: Next week: Conor Lambe

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