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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Enough, Enough of Stormont


David Adams, Irish Times • 26 May 2006

The British and Irish governments must soon accept what is blindingly obvious to virtually everyone else. That is, there is no prospect of Sinn Féin and the DUP agreeing to form a powersharing Executive by the deadline of November 24th, or at any time in the near future.

Anyone who still thinks otherwise must surely have missed the farcical goings-on at Stormont during the past fortnight.

Thus far, there has been no attempt at serious deliberation, just an all too predictable display of boorish behaviour, petty point-scoring and squabbling over irrelevancies.

If nothing else, it has given further evidence of how little seriousness the major parties attach to the whole exercise. Neither are there even the slightest grounds for believing that the situation might improve. After an assembly session on Monday that lasted all of 14 minutes, DUP leader Ian Paisley made that clear to the waiting media.

He announced, to the obvious delight of his colleagues, that the DUP would not negotiate with Sinn Féin on the governance of Northern Ireland. This effectively rendered meaningless a proposed cross-party committee to discuss the restoration of devolution even before it has been established.

Now, it appears, this committee will serve only as a platform for rehearsing, without room for question or explanation, the mutually incompatible and now boringly familiar party positions. Though one might have imagined it scarcely possible to further limit the potential for agreement, Paisley then managed to do even that. He also declared that neither would he be having any more dealings with Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey because of the UUP's recent co-option of PUP leader David Ervine into its Assembly grouping.

They were hardly the words or attitude of someone positioning his party for a historic compromise. The DUP, as they so often point out, would certainly like to see devolved government restored to Northern Ireland, but not if the price for that is having to share ministerial posts with Sinn Féin.

For their part, despite what they claim, Sinn Féin has no interest in helping deliver political and social stability. A Northern Ireland society contented and at peace with itself is hardly conducive to their pursuit of a united Ireland.

If such circumstances were allowed to pertain, the chances of them ever being able to convince a majority that their best interests lay in a 32 county unitary state would plummet from very slim to zero.

It has been argued as a positive that there is a short-term incentive for Sinn Féin to reach agreement, because ministerial positions in a Northern Ireland Executive would give a boost to their upcoming election campaign in the Republic. For the rest of us, an Executive formed solely, and temporarily, to facilitate the electoral ambitions of a single party would not constitute political progress. But even aside from that, Sinn Féin has no need to go to the bother. Playing the role of the thwarted peacemakers, at which they excel, will serve the same purpose.

Sinn Fein's only real concern is to ensure the DUP takes full blame for the inevitable failure, and that won't prove too difficult.

The question is not whether the parties will reach agreement by November 24th but, increasingly, why wait until then to bring this embarrassing charade to an end. If, despite all evidence to the contrary, they are indeed serious about reaching agreement, then the politicians are quite capable of managing that on their own. There is no need for innumerable representatives of three sovereign governments to continue dancing attendance and bending to every whim of a bunch of self-important, time wasters to facilitate something they claim to want anyway.

However, after the deadline expires, the British government must hold fast to its threat to close the Assembly and stop members' salaries and allowances. It must not be tempted, yet again, by half-promises from the parties into continuing with a tortuous and convoluted process of once-removed negotiations that are going nowhere.

Neither should they be fooled by predictable waffle about the dangers of leaving a political vacuum. Except for the few months when an Assembly was operating, we have survived for decades without devolved government.

It is not even as though there is any level of public expectation within Northern Ireland that the parties will manage to form an Executive or, in all truth, any great desire that they do. Most people have long ago given up on devolution.

After November 24th, the attitude of both the British and Irish governments to the parties - particularly the DUP and Sinn Féin - should be "contact us only when you have reached a comprehensive agreement on the restoration of devolution, and not before then".

It should be made clear, that responsibility for internal political progress, if they want it, now rests solely with them.

Meanwhile, the governments should do what they promised and push ahead with all other aspects of the Belfast Agreement. There is nothing to stop them building on their much improved relationship and co-operating further on security, policing and economic matters.

Stormont is not needed for any of that: it is time to pull the shutters down.



Reprinted with permission from the author.



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28 May 2006

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