Politics in Northern ireland is depressingly detached from the province's people and that will only change when enough good people join political parties, argues RUTH DUDLEY EDWARDS
"THERE'S wiser eating grass," said a gloomy friend of those who elected Tom Elliot to the Ulster Unionist leadership.
"The UUP's finished. I'm going to emigrate. I don't want to be ruled by murderers and bigots for the rest of my life."
I argued with him, but I couldn't be optimistic, for though Elliott is a decent and principled man, it's hard to see how he can arrest his party's decline any more than the equally decent Margaret Ritchie can transform the SDLP into a vibrant fighting force.
Tony Blair sacrificed the centre to the extremes, the Good Friday Agreement institutionalised sectarianism and amoral voting by many Northern Irish electors have indeed given the province a government dominated by ethnic warriors who care only for their own selfish tribal interests.
The DUP and Sinn Fein are brothers under the skin, both happy to split rather than share power.
I know innumerable good people in Northern Ireland, but unless they stop acting like ostriches, get out of their armchairs, get involved in party politics and form a credible opposition, their fate will continue to be in the hands of people so narrow and mean-spirited as to make one nostalgic for the old Stormont.
It is 2010, they all claim to be broad-minded, but just a fortnight ago Northern Ireland made an exhibition of itself by going unrepresented at the papal shindig in Scotland because Peter Robinson was boycotting the pope and Martin McGuinness the Queen.
How will the Union fare? Well, of course it's secure and will still be so in 2021.
Talk of uniting Ireland now raises a hoarse laugh in the Dublin corridors of power. London would love to be rid of Northern Ireland but is stuck with it.
Still, it will be showing little patience with its petty provincial squabbles during the belt-tightening years ahead.
So at worst, Northern Ireland will be an unloved member of the UK family with the same status as now.
At best, economic realism and the work of good people will have swept aside the dinosaurs, Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems will be competing fiercely for Irish seats and the United Kingdom will be happy with the ghastly adolescent who grew up to be a fine adult.
That vision requires people to stop voting for horrid parties like Sinn Fein or the DUP.
I can see nothing good coming out of unionist unity, for the lowest common denominator would triumph and the nasty people would devour the nice ones.
In my ideal world, the reasonable and pleasant members of the DUP would see the error of their ways and jump ship.
In that same world, Sinn Fein a fascist party which celebrates murderers would go out of existence.
I support the Agreement because there is no alternative, but it still makes me sick that terrorists are in government.
Yet though the prospect of a Sinn Fein first minister is depressing, I don't think it's important and it certainly is not a good reason for a forced unionist marriage. What is important is that decent people stop moaning about the low calibre of their politicians and instead support the good ones and give P45s to the bad and the useless.
Northern Ireland is a lovely place. I would like to see it run by lovely people.