Stormont crisis; the larger picture

The philosopher and Cambridge professor Ludwig Wittgenstein once said:

“Don’t get involved in partial problems, but always take flight to where there is a free view over the whole great problem, even if this view is still not a clear one.”

In the midst of the chaos that Northern Ireland has been plunged into in the last few weeks it’s especially hard to find such a settled vantage point, but Malachi O’Doherty does come reasonably close. On Monday he gave a fair analysis of the longer term consequences of this weeks happenings:

“From looking near suicidal two weeks ago, David Trimble now looks like an astute politician, almost a prophet. He swung his party council behind a deadline for the start to the disbandment of the IRA. That seemed an unattainable goal. Gerry Adams surely knows more clearly today, however, that the IRA is an embarrassment and an encumbrance and that his political prospects are stalled by it.”

He goes on:

“We may come back in time to negotiating power sharing between unionists and republicans, but not with the IRA in the background. No Unionist leader will try to sell that one again. The assurances that seemed such a radical demand two weeks ago seem like simple common sense now, if the alternative is that IRA espionage units might be free to take advantage of Sinn Fein’s political gains to penetrate the government and the police.”

He explains why there may be easy no turning back to the way to pinning all the blame on the anti agreement Unionist camp:

“Every party breaks the rules but when republicans misbehave, the presumption will always be that lives have been put in danger. The British spied on Sinn Fein. They bugged their offices at Stormont – or somebody did – in 1995. Mo owned up to planting a global positioning device and a bug in the car used by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. When the DUP receives leaks, there is no automatic assumption that bloodshed could follow.”

“While Sinn Fein is pegged to the IRA it does not have the same freedom to be indiscreet as other parties have. It is like a player whose every foul will be regarded as attempted murder. It does not have the same latitude to misbehave. It’s only defence in the past, that Sinn Fein is not the IRA, suddenly doesn’t help very much.”

He finishes by suggesting that, in these particular circumstances, judicial process is secondary to political process:

“There is nothing anyone else can do to lift the suspicion that falls on the Shinners. They have to lift it themselves. This has been made clear by the police operation at Stormont, whatever the result of the case now before the courts. For now, it is not what a judge makes of the case that counts, it is what the Unionists make of it. Understanding that much would have given Sinn Fein a greater political advantage than any of their spying could have done.”