Blair’s “moral quagmire”…

IN his answer to David Trimble in the Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister outlines (near the bottom) his dilemma over how an inclusive Executive can be formed. He wants Sinn Fein in it, but doesn’t want parties with alleged links to groups involved in paramilitary or criminal activity in it – Catch 22? An ‘interim measure’, possibly some form of Assembly scrutiny committee(s), seems to be the frontrunning idea at the moment.The SDLP has already rejected this already, although its alternative – civic administrators – is also problemmatic.

Durkan said:

“These administrators would be fully accountable to the Assembly, which would, of course, have all the legislative, budgetary and other controls as under the Agreement. The civic administrators could also undertake business in a restored NSMC. We cannot afford any more drift or drag in this process. We need working institutions, not token consultation.

“We can maximise delivery and implementation of the Agreement in the ‘here and now’ even if for obvious reasons parties can not yet form an inclusive Executive. None of the ‘Plan B’s’ being canvassed by others are centred on restoring institutions and allowing and requiring parties to exercise their mandate responsibly.”

Would the SDLP be so supportive of their idea if an administrator decided to introduce water charges? Either way, in the zero-sum game of Northern Irish politics, unaccountable civic administrators would inevitably be hung out to dry by one side or the other after every controversial decision. There would be little confidence in them.

Meanwhile, Trimble has rejected both the DUP’s proposal for a ‘corporate assembly’ and the SDLP’s civic administrators. The UUP seems to favour the scrutiny committee, if today’s News Letter is anything to go by (article hopefully online later).

The main difference between the SDLP and UUP’s favoured interim measure, now that there is widespread acceptance that an Executive is on the long finger, is that the SDLP administrators would have statutory authority, while the scrutiny committee would be powerless. Nationalists would fear unionists becoming happy enough with this arrangement over time, although if Direct Rule decisions were to be challenged unsuccessfully by unionists in a scrutiny committee, their attitude might change (for example, over reform of selection procedures in education).

Alliance continues to push the line for a voluntary ‘coalition of the willing’, which Brian Feeney opposes in the Irish News. Feeney seems to be somewhat despondent, writing:

Our proconsul [the Secretary of State] made it clear that until the IRA is out of business SF cannot ‘assume responsibilities again in a devolved administration’. Furthermore there will be no devolution of justice or policing ‘while criminal activities and the capacity to plan and undertake such activities continues’.

That’s not what the GFA permitted. Incredibly, its unwritten terms allowed SF ministers to hold office while the IRA continued to carry out shootings, robberies, racketeering and all manner of illicit fundraising for the republican cause. Both governments turned a blind eye to these activities in the forlorn hope that they would gradually stop. They didn’t.

A moral quagmire, as Seamus Mallon said.

We’ve now reached the alarming point where the majority of the nationalist electorate seems content for these circumstances to continue, reject what both governments are saying and will vote for SF, probably in greater numbers than before.

In other words they are oblivious to the danger of endorsing their own political isolation.