Standing back from the conflict: one of the most Conservative governments in Europe is facing one of the most conservative opposition moments. There is a strong degree of fundamentalism in the Republican movement which is utterly detached from modern left wing thinking and re-thinking.
The issue really, given these poles, is how can the left inject some different thinking into the situation? The question is: what should the left advocate?
The problem is similar, in a way, to the problem faced in the British Labour Party: either side with Traditionalists who seem to exist in a time warp and fail to relate to the modern world, or side with the Modernisers who appear to have lost all their connections with the left. It seems to me that we need a radical modernisation of politics which avoids these two alternatives. That applies to politics in Ireland too.
There has been some modernisation in the Republic during the last twenty - and particularly the last ten - years. The changed attitude towards the North we now find on the left in the South is support for a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society. People are arguing for the maximum effort to develop links between the two parts of Ireland and an island-wide economy. Such an entity would be highly autonomous from Britain.
Of course, as I readily accept, the problem is that there is no significant political force arguing for this solution in the North, where impacted conditions have tended to stunt political debate. There is no forum here where people can get together and discuss.
The left must talk a language of democracy and human rights that has some sort of universal basis. On this ground it can hope to appeal to a wide range of people.
Robin Wilson is a member of the editorial board of the Belfast magazine Fortnight, and works for the Democratic Dialogue group.