Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting

At the Irish Times, Northern Editor Gerry Moriarty, riffs on a literary theme – Not so much ‘Groundhog Day’ again as ‘Waiting for Godot’

Edited highlights from the article –

People often compare the Northern political process to the film Groundhog Day, where the characters are condemned to relive the same day over and over. But they are wrong. The process is like Waiting for Godot.

For those few Irish Times readers unfamiliar with the play, Samuel Beckett’s characters Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting. And so are we. And we will wait for a while longer before there is a comprehensive political agreement in Northern Ireland.

Good old Vlad and Estragon: they generally travel in hope, occasionally losing faith, but always prepared to face the night in the possibility of a bright dawn, of Godot wandering on to the stage. So it was with the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, and the British Prime Minister in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast yesterday.

Mr Ahern said this final issue of pictures could be resolved before Christmas. Later, though, he conceded that a pre-Christmas solution was perhaps “aspirational”. But like Beckett’s men, both the Taoiseach and Prime Minister hold to their duty of hope.

Nine days ago the question was asked here: would Gerry Adams see the chance of a deal wasted over a picture of a redundant AK47? Would Ian Paisley sacrifice all that the DUP gained for a photograph of a redundant rocket launcher? We got our answer yesterday: yes, and yes again.

As the article says

We are now into the blame game, a more popular past-time than PlayStation 2 up here. At the DUP press conference in east Belfast yesterday, the Rev Ian Paisley blamed republicans for the crash of this agreement.

Over in west Belfast, the Sinn Féin president, Mr Gerry Adams, said it was all the DUP’s responsibility.

No surprises there. The tendency at such times is for culpability to break down along sectarian lines. It’s simple: nationalists blame unionists and unionists blame nationalists. It’s already shaping up for that pattern of fault-finding, but there could be some variations on that game this time.

The reasonable question being asked yesterday was, What was the point in Mr Ahern and Mr Blair coming to Belfast without a deal? Wasn’t that an abject admission of yet another failure in this process? To try to understand the governments’ reasoning one must also understand that in recent weeks the consistent line from Dublin and London was that they hoped that the IRA might make some compromises on photographs.[my emphasis]

Mr Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness in the negotiations during and since Leeds Castle in September didn’t say yes to pictures, and they didn’t say no[my emphasis again], we were told. The governments drew hope from this absence of a definitive response that the IRA might live with pictures being perhaps shown to Dr Paisley, and even possibly being published.

Towards the end of the article Gerry Moriarty attempts a, relatively, optimistic assessment –

So, like Vladimir and Estragon, will we be waiting forever for a deal? Mr Ahern and Mr Blair will meet on the margins of an EU meeting next week to see if there is a way forward. The Northern Secretary Paul Murphy and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern will meet the parties next week.

Mr Murphy told The Irish Times last night, “Yes, we are disappointed, but we are not despairing.” Like Beckett’s characters.

There really is just one issue left to resolve; not guns, not Semtex, not policing, not even whether there would be independent observation of IRA decommissioning in addition to Gen de Chastelain – but photographs

Mr Blair, when advising Dr Paisley against humiliating his opponents, also said it wasn’t sensible to overreact to such talk. Somewhere in that comment lies the solution: a little more restraint from the Doc, a thicker skin, just a little more give from republicans.

How long we must wait for that to happen is hard to call. But if Northern Ireland politicians have any competence, it shouldn’t be as long as Vladimir and Estragon have to wait.

Ah.. IF Northern Ireland politicians have any competence…. that might just be the problem, Gerry.

After all, Vladimir and Estragon are always waiting.