The fallout from the pandemic is quite naturally taking centre stage in Irish politics as Covid 19 is has no respect for gender, age, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation or nationality.
With traditional Hallowe’en and Christmas commemorations and celebrations in doubt, many must be wondering - will we ever get back to so-called ‘normal’ politics in the ‘new normal’ society?
After the original Stormont Parliament collapsed in 1972 and Direct Rule from Westminster imposed, the Province’s local councils moved into pole position in terms of active politics.
Many political activists, especially in Unionism’s devolutionist wing, campaigned hard for the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland. Local government politics was branded the policies of the ‘Three Bs’ - the bogs, the bins and the burials.
This was a sarcastic reference to the implication that the only powers which Northern Ireland elected representatives in councils enjoyed was cleaning the public toilets, emptying the bins, and burying the dead.
Covid 19 has had such an impact on our lives during 2020, that its long-term effects could be with us for many months, even years, to come.
It seems that Brexit, a dissident republican terror campaign, drug gangs and the future of the transfer test at 11 have all been pushed into second place behind combatting the pandemic.
What we all took for granted in the early days of January 2020 - namely, the work of local government - how we now wish we could return to that ‘normal’.
But the bitter reality which Ireland must face - north and south - is will these ‘glory normal’ days ever return to the body politic on this island?
The entire community has an important role to play in this campaign by strictly observing all the government and medical guidelines on combatting the virus, especially with the so-called second wave all but upon us.
The community must embark on a policy of positive thinking if the genuine defeat of the virus is to be fully achieved.
In short, our mindset must be that we, as a community, can actually beat the virus and eventually come out the other side of the pandemic and put the priorities of the ‘bogs, bins and burials’ as the primary function of politics.
Of course, many will also say that these functions are continuing even with Covid restrictions and locality lockdowns. Ironically, with such a focus on tackling Covid 19, could constitutional changes come about via the back door politically?
For example, it can be suggested that whilst the earlier 2020 lockdown happened really suddenly in March, a second lockdown is already underway, except this time, the restrictions are being introduced gradually piece by piece.
Could this same ‘creeping lockdown’ policy be mirrored in the constitutional field? In Southern Ireland, Sinn Fein is being virtually shunned in Leinster House as the Dail’s ‘Big Two’ - Fianna Fail and Fine Gael - have joined forces to keep the Shinners out of a coalition government.
In Northern Ireland, for the first time since the formation of the state in 1921, Unionism is now a minority ideology.
Is it a case that the majority of Protestants within the pro-Union community have abandoned the ballot box, or that the ethos of ‘a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people’ has lost the numbers game?
If it is a case that the pro-Union community has realised it is losing the numbers game either to nationalism, or the centrist middle ground as typified by the Alliance ‘bounce’, is Unionism abandoning its traditional Right-wing in favour of a more liberal ideology in a bid to win transfers from Alliance and soft nationalists?
Perhaps the pro-Union community should embark on a ‘hard sell’ of the financial benefits of Northern Ireland remaining in the UK, and at the same time, persuading the Irish republic to adopt a closer formal relationship with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.
In short, is it possible that Covid 19 would be used as a cover to either implement a united Ireland in all but name, or that the Irish republic ‘teams up’ with the UK under the banner of the cross-border bodies?
Its not the first time the ‘creeping solution’ has been applied in Northern Ireland. In November 1985, as a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Maryfield Secretariat was established near Belfast.
Staffed by Southern civil servants, it gave the Dail its first real say in the running of Northern Ireland since partition. It functioned quietly and efficiently right under the noses of Unionism as the latter tramped the cold, damp winter streets of the Province under the banner of the Ulster Says No campaigns.
If Unionism is boxing clever, it could establish a series of new cross-border bodies with the specific aim of allowing Unionism to have a meaningful say in the running of Southern Ireland.
Or put bluntly, is this Home Rule for Ireland which Carson and Craig campaigned so hard against in the early years of the 20th century before the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.
Home Rule was off the political agenda in 1912, again in 1921, as an alternative when Stormont collapsed in 1972, and in 1974 when Sunningdale collapsed, and in 1986 when the Prior Assembly folded.
But in a Covid 19 stricken society only months away from 2021, could Home Rule for the island be an acceptable way of maintaining the peace process?
The Good Friday Agreement and its subsequent Assembly has often been dubbed ‘Sunningdale for slow learners’. Perhaps the need for an all-island campaign to combat the pandemic will create the political scenario of ‘Home Rule for late developers’.
Listen to Dr John Coulter’s religious show, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, or listen online at www.thisissunshine.com