SF’s Plan B a non-runner – Rabbitte

In today’s Irish Times, the leader of the Irish Labour Party, Pat Rabbitte, introduces a welcome tone of realism on decommissioning and points out that the notional joint-rule as a Plan B, which the Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has been promoting to his party’s supporters in the US, is unconstitutional – not that SF have ever been that concerned about the constitution of ‘the 26 counties’.He refers to the Taoiseach recent comments on the likelihood of the parties agreeing a way forward in the North by themselves –

He said the de Chastelain commission should be left to get on with its job but recognised – on account of the deficits of mistrust from the past – that additional elements of transparency were required.

According to the Taoiseach, for a number of reasons that were not spelled out, the window of opportunity for agreement is very narrow. He said the DUP has “an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate peace . . . If this opportunity is squandered, it will have consequences, both in terms of the time that elapses before we can again seek to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland and as regards the form and content of the political process during the interim period.”

But he is critical of the enthusiasm with which any action on decommissioning by the IRA is being portrayed –

I believe everyone should welcome credible and definitive action on decommissioning. However I do not believe we need to hail such actions as concessions by the IRA but rather as the democratic duty it owes to the people of this island, a duty that should long since have been discharged.

What is missing, he argues, is an acknowledgement of

the history of delay, prevarication, demands for clarification, gnomic utterances, false trails, garden paths and double-speak by the republican leadership.

And in Gerry Adams’ speech in NY he sees a party that is trying to skip beyond the collapse of the present talks

He [Adams] said that in such an event, direct rule would not be sustainable in the long term, and suggested “the two governments look to formal institutionalised power-sharing at government level”.

As Rabbitte argues, this proposal undermines the Agreement’s model of devolved government and calls into question SF’s commitment to that devolved governemnt –

This proposed solution – a stronger role for Dublin in Northern affairs, badgering the British to go over unionist heads, joint authority as a substitute for devolved government – provides further evidence that Sinn Féin was never that pushed about devolved government in the North in the first place.

If devolved government was a high priority, would they not have given more consideration to recent proposals from the SDLP that advocate the recalling of the Assembly and the appointment of civic administrators to do the jobs of ministers until the parties can agree on the formation of the Executive?

He also sets out the argument that SF’s proposed model of joint-authority would be unconstitutional

Joint authority is a non-runner because it would be unconstitutional. The present Article 3 repeats one aspect of the article it replaced in the referendum on the Belfast Agreement. Pending national unification, laws enacted by the Oireachtas apply only within the jurisdiction of this 26-county State.

The Supreme Court confirmed in 1975 that the Oireachtas is not free to legislate for Northern Ireland as though it were part of this State. The amended Articles 2 and 3 have abandoned the “territorial claim” and place that incapacity beyond doubt.

The only bodies that are exceptions to this contitutional position are the all-Ireland implementation bodies created through the Agreement, which operate under the aegis of the North/South Ministerial Council.

But there is no Assembly, no Executive and no North/South council at present. There is no umbrella under which all-island implementation bodies could operate.

With nothing yet in the public domain, he is pessimistic about the prospects of a workable Plan B being produced this close to the Governments’ self-imposed deadline –

The two governments have often mentioned the need to move to a Plan B, yet they have never articulated what Plan B actually is.

In the absence of this, and if the agreement cannot be restored, the only apparent solution is one that will please no one: no all-island implementation bodies, a return to arrangements similar to the Anglo-Irish Agreement with a Maryfield-type secretariat and close inter-governmental consultation (but no executive role) for the Irish Government in the affairs of a Northern Ireland governed by direct rule from London.

In other words, the failure to reach agreement by November 26th will result in limited east-west arrangements, even less North-South, and nothing internal at all. Some Plan B!

And he is, rightly, critical of the very nature of the ongoing discussions –

important legal and constitutional questions are at the heart of talks concerning an agreement which belongs to all us all. Yet the debate is conducted on a secretive, bilateral, basis with only certain, “problem” parties.

The secrecy surrounding discussions has been an ongoing problem and it remains, with the tacit approval of an unquestioning media, primarily about controlling what we the public are allowed to know.