It’s not a ‘peace’ process.. it’s a political process

According to the Irish Times, the Irish and British Governments have decided not to allow the party election strategies of the DUP and SF to take precedence over political progress – Ahern says North deadline is November 25th:

The Taoiseach has said talks between the parties in the North cannot continue beyond November 25th. If no deal is agreed by then, the Irish and British governments will present a joint proposal for implementing the Belfast Agreement, writes Denis Staunton in Rome

“We have a number of options, a number of scenarios which we’ll decide on then,” he said.

Although there is yet to be a confirming quote from the British Government, Taioseach Bertie Ahern says that the two governments have set the date jointly –

He said he and Mr Blair agreed that the first anniversary of last November’s Assembly elections was the deadline for the end of the current round of talks and there was no question of prolonging the process until after next year’s British general election.

And, finally, what appears to be a recognition from the governments of what some of us on Slugger have been pointing out for some time – namely that party political considerations are the primary reasons for the current stalemate.

Mr Ahern said negotiations over the last two weeks had not been good and that no progress was likely next week because a number of the key interlocutors would be unavailable. This left only a few weeks before the November 25th deadline, after which the two governments were determined to launch a new phase.

People have to understand that the governments are together, the governments are moving on and they have to move. The option that a party – or two parties – can just decide the agenda totally and that nothing happens is not going to work

In a not unconnected article, Dan Keenan, also in the Irish Times, spells out his opinion on why the governments have chosen to force the parties’ hands. Although his argument works better to explain why the parties feel able to put their own electoral ambitions first.

Day in, day out, the best government officials from Ireland and Britain strive with the Northern parties to find a formula to restore devolution. The public is finding it all increasingly tedious.

As he points out, when the Assembly was suspended –

Not one protester took to the streets in October 2002 when the British government reimposed direct rule. Many Assembly members fulminated as the then Northern Secretary, Dr John Reid, told politicians to choose between violence and democracy.

The public reaction was to have no reaction.

A public attitude survey later carried out by Queen’s University and the University of Ulster confirmed that the Northern electorate simply rolled its eyes or shrugged its shoulders.

He lists a series of changes, progress he argues, that Northern Ireland has experienced, summed up as:

“Reforms continue apace, although not to the liking of everyone.”

“On a visual level at least, Northern Ireland is being gradually ‘normalised’, to use government jargon.”

He also notes the scaling back of London based newspapers coverage here –

“Northern Ireland’s old divisions and its tedious political stalemate regarding restoration of Stormont have limited news appeal.”

But, while he concludes with the suggestion that this collective ennui will prompt the parties to seek a different solution..

“The people of Northern Ireland seem equally tired of it, but they seem resigned to living with the consequences. That acceptance, however grudging, of direct rule might just persuade politicians that it is in their interests to do a deal – and quickly.”

..there seems little logic behind that conclusion.

After all, which parties exactly would suffer politically from further direct rule, however modified?

Until we see the options that the Irish and British Governments are to choose from (with all the appendices and sub-sections), and as usual we will be the last to know, there is no reason to expect those party political strategies to change.