The Assembly ain’t coming back

IN the Irish Times, David Adams argues that “It is becoming clearer by the day that the British government believes the political institutions in Northern Ireland cannot be revived.”Some excerpts from the article

Whether the judgment is that neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP is genuinely committed to reaching an agreement on power-sharing or, more charitably, that the gulf between them is so wide as to be unbridgeable is largely irrelevant.

With far more pressing matters than Northern Ireland demanding their full attention, the most obvious being the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks in Britain, it seems Tony Blair and his government are no longer prepared to waste precious time, energy and resources on the political equivalence of an irresistible force arm-wrestling with an immovable object.

Besides, from a British perspective the peace process, even as it stands, can only be considered a success. In the absence of a devolved Assembly it hasn’t been as successful as it might have been, but with thousands of troops no longer bogged down here and peace of a sort established the situation is light years beyond what it once was. The “armed struggle” is at an end and the activities of militant republicanism now confined to a tiny, hermetically sealed, corner of the UK. With Sinn Féin continuing to expand its political base in the Republic it could even be argued that, in many respects, the problem of how to deal with “a vast criminal and political conspiracy” now rests with the Dublin administration.

And he argues that neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP are, in reality, concerned about reinstating the Assembly..

Despite what they may say, neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP will be too discomfited by the prospect of the Assembly not being reinstated. Not least because the government assessment is right: for completely different reasons neither is interested in sharing power with the other.

Sinn Féin’s, and the DUP’s, focus will be in other areas, he says –

With or without a working Assembly, Sinn Féin will continue its twin-track policy of creating instability in Northern Ireland while expanding its electoral base in the Republic.

You don’t need the IRA or its weaponry to foment trouble around issues such as flags, parades or policing.

In the wake of Seán Kelly’s release and the disbanding of the RIR battalions, the DUP, in line with a majority of the unionist electorate, will now be even less inclined, if that is possible, to share executive office with Sinn Féin.

They will content themselves, instead, with politics at Westminster and in Europe.

And for the rest of us it could be a different form of devolution –

Unfortunately, the rest of us will just have to await the long overdue reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland, with its promise of far fewer but much more powerful local councils, to deliver locally based, representative and accountable, democratic institutions.

..which could also be described as the cantonisation approach.