Crime and punishment…

LIAM Clarke and Stephen Dempster consider various options for moving the process forward and potential sanctions against Sinn Fein.Potential sanctions against SF listed include greater restrictions to visas to America, and financial penalties, such as a ban on foreign fundraising (that one must be really worrying those behind the £26.5m robbery, Liam!)

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State must surely be thinking about Paragraph 30 (2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and what would happen if the Assembly had been reconvened:

(2) If the Assembly resolves that a political party does not enjoy the confidence of the Assembly-

(a) because it is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means; or
(b) because it is not committed to such of its members as are or might become Ministers or junior Ministers observing the other terms of the pledge of office,
members of that party shall be excluded from holding office as Ministers or junior Ministers for a period of twelve months beginning with the date of the resolution.

Clarke writes in the Sunday Times:

The SDLP could offer to form a coalition with the unionists and centre parties, without Sinn Fein. Mark Durkan’s party could drive a hard bargain and, if Sinn Fein was excluded, at least one Alliance party minister would serve alongside them under the d’Hondt system.

Otherwise, the governments could dust off SDLP and DUP plans for an assembly without locally elected ministers in order to get devolution running, and to bring pressure on Sinn Fein to come into line. In the DUP version, British ministers would be responsible to the assembly; in the SDLP model, appointed experts would hold the ministerial portfolios.

Any of these systems, or a combination with some locally elected ministers and some appointees ratified by an assembly vote, would tide us over the crisis caused by the IRA. Sinn Fein would have its assembly seats but would be excluded from executive office unless and until it cleaned up its act to the satisfaction of the other parties and the two governments.

Dempster writes int eh News Letter:

OPTION 1: Sanction Sinn Fein.

They could turn the screw in a number of ways. The White House could deny visa rights to Sinn Fein members wishing to fundraise in the US – as so many have terrorist backgrounds. There could also be a halt on Sinn Fein being allowed to raise funds abroad. That said, Sinn Fein has been sanctioned before but to little or no effect.

OPTION 2: Move the peace process forward without Sinn Fein.

While the governments cannot exclude republicans from an Executive that does not exist, they could suspend them from the peace process – with the IRA’s commitment to peace put under extended scrutiny. However, this may only have a negative impact by further antagonising the IRA. It is also impossible to strike a peace deal without the majority nationalist party involved.

OPTION 3: A new voluntary coalition government involving unionists, the SDLP and Alliance.

This would be dependent on the SDLP being prepared to exclude Sinn Fein which would be a risk for them in terms of the nationalist vote – making it unlikely.

OPTION 4: An Assembly, minus Sinn Fein members, could be restored with NIO Ministers or other agreed appointees fulfilling the Executive role. A healthy interim measure.

OPTION 5: A period of reflection in which Sinn Fein are cold-shouldered and talks suspended until late 2005.

This is by far and away the most likely scenario and could involve the IRA being put to the test in a series of IMC reports.

Direct Rule would continue. This would, though, anger unionists as republicans would once again go unpunished to any great degree.