by Shane Finnegan
If ever there was a political leader that courted controversy and divided public opinion it’s Donald Trump. An intriguing glimpse into that dichotomy of opinion played out in the US over the last few days with two prominent public figures, the rapper Kayne West and Trump’s former Director of Communications Omarose Manigault–Newman, making the headlines for very different reasons.
West was respectfully put to the pin of his collar by popular TV host Jimmy Kimmel who questioned him about his sequacious support of the President. While initially robust in his response the pop star had to be saved by a commercial break when he was questioned about the President’s ‘care’ for black people. In contrast Trump’s former aide and reality TV star Omarose, who was at one time the most prominent African American in the White House, accused the President of being a racist, a bigot and misogynistic in her book which is being published today (Tuesday). While the Whitehouse labelled this as the sour grapes of a disgruntled former employee with the man himself calling her a ‘lowlife’ there are those who will view this episode as another example of Trump’s lack of suitability for the Presidential office.
Whatever you say about him though, there can be no argument about his ability to overcome adversity. Has there ever been a leader who can kick accusation and controversy like snow of a rope the way he can? Other President’s could well have been within the throes of an impeachment process at this point, especially after Helsinki. But not Trump, not yet anyway.
Loathe him or like him, it’s as if he has been around forever. He’s been instrumental in a lot of change, albeit much of it unpalatable to many, such as the policy of splitting immigrant families which he was eventually forced to retract. And he doesn’t shy away from shouting about his apparent accomplishments, tweeting on his 500th day in office, ‘Massive Tax & Regulation Cuts, Military & Vets, Lower Crime & Illegal Immigration, Stronger Borders, Judgeships, Best Economy & Jobs EVER, and much more…’.
What is hard to fathom is that Trump’s inauguration and the dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly were within a week of each other, some 19 months ago. So as our legislative system approaches 541 days of inauspicious notoriety, it’s a valid question to ask whether the gulf that exists within our political class is as extreme as those embodied within the controversial President of the United States and his political opponents, or are they more reconcilable?
One thing is for sure, our system of regional government is light years away from that of an imperious, diplomatically out of touch, President so aptly depicted on Time Magazine’s ‘King me’ front cover. While its comparing apples and pears at every level there are checks and balances within the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has often been its downfall. Its not perfect, we know that, but with a little bit of goodwill, commitment and that all important compromise it should be workable. Except it’s not.
There is a lot to be positive about in Northern Ireland. Tourism is growing with events such as The Open coming back after 69 years, affordable housing, an enviable education system, important infrastructural projects in the pipeline, historically low unemployment and a new emphasis and appetite for entrepreneurship.
However, it is in no way over egging the pudding to say that we continue to have a rudderless ship in Northern Ireland at a time of unprecedented challenges. The destabilising approach to Brexit of the Tory party and the UK Government as we all know will impact business and industry in the North more so than anywhere else in the UK. It should never have gone unchallenged by regional government irrespective of the local influence at Westminster or that of the Irish Government. Both Scotland and Wales developed comprehensive frameworks in terms of their preferred approach to the Brexit process and specific areas for policy alignment that they want introduced to help buffer the impact on industry and their regional economies. Northern Ireland is conspicuous by its absence and the de facto caretaker that is the Civil Service is not in a position to make those asks. Nor indeed is it, now, in a position to make the all–important planning and infrastructural decisions following the Arc21 ruling with the North South Interconnector, the A5 upgrade, the £150m ultra–fast broadband programme and the Casement Park project all caught up in the crossfire. These are all projects that support much needed business development and economic regeneration. And of course, none of this is withstanding the huge challenges for Northern Irealnd’s health service and education system so crucial to both civic well–being and economic prosperity.
It was against this backdrop that the most recent performance indicator for Northern Ireland highlighted that the economy contracted by 0.3% with business representative groups voicing their concern. Missing within the press release issued by the Department for the Economy which announced the latest NICEI figures was the accountability of a Minister or an affirmation from him or her on how the Programme for Government or other initiatives would support economic stimulation at this very important time.
The businesses, the economy and the people of the North are resilient, they always have been, and they defy the odds time and again. However, with the onslaught that is Brexit, we are in the eye of a storm in uncharted territory with time running out to get our house in order and the wheels of industry turning. If our locally elected representatives leave it solely to others they can have no excuse and history will judge them.
Shane Finnegan is Client Director at Public Relations and Public Affairs company AIKEN