Fact stranger than children’s fiction?

Alex Kane finds an enormous amount of money being spent on a new children’s programming event, when, he reckons, Northern Ireland already has enough ‘big birds’ already – mostly of the headless chicken variety.By Alex Kane:

The news that someone has agreed to give the producers of Sesame Street an enormous sum of money to make their programmes “Northern Ireland relevant,” really does prove that a fool and his money are soon parted. We already have a standing army of puppets, muppets, dummies and dodos hogging the airways and reducing everything they touch to unalloyed farce. Honestly, hold on to your cheque, we don’t need any additions to the fun factory.

Our existing gallery of grotesques includes Big Absurd; Fozzy Barefaced liar; Miss Piggy in the middle; Winnie the poo-poo everyone else’s ideas; and Bill and Ben the IRA men. And let’s not forget their assorted chums: Goofy at the NIO, Dumbo at the Parades Commission, Pinoccio at Number 10, and PC Plod briefing the Policing Board.

What would cheer me up, though, is if someone would toss a spanner into the works of the conveyor belt which trundles out the self-styled “great and good” to give us their lofty opinions on the latest development in the political process. The usual suspects were at it again in the wake of the IMC report, with their orchestrated guff and torrents of piffle. Why do the BBC and UTV labour under the delusion that clergymen and superannuated middle-of-the-roaders, represent the views of the “man in the street”? Judging from their platitude and latitude they have as much comprehension of grassroots opinion as I have of pebble dashing. Worse still, in their profoundly stupid determination to see everything from the curate’s egg, or glass half-full/half-empty perspective, they have blinded and deafened themselves to the presence of the elephant trumpeting in the background.

Let’s be quite clear about the report; it is an unmitigated disaster for the peace process. Either the IRA is still in business, still doing everything required to maintain its structures and status as a terrorist organisation; or the IMC is utterly wrong and taking intelligence from sources who have a vested interest in undermining Sinn Fein. It doesn’t actually matter which of those two interpretations is accurate, because the truth of just one of them is enough to destroy the process that began in the mid-1990s.

As it stands today there is no mission of a breakthrough in the new round of negotiations. And the next IMC report, due in April, will make no difference, either, for there is no way that the IRA will be able to deliver a clean sheet within three months, when they haven’t done it over ten years. That being the case, the DUP won’t even agree to indirect negotiations with Sinn Fein in the near future.

The DUP published its “Facing Reality” proposals earlier this week. Within hours Sinn Fein had rejected the proposals in their entirety. More interestingly, the SDLP also rejected them: “The DUP’s proposals are about setting aside executive devolution. But it is at the heart of the Agreement and the SDLP will never accept its dilution. Nor will we agree with DUP proposals to allow direct rulers a continuing role. Even if other parties are ambiguous, we are clear that there is no acceptable level of direct rule.”

So, goodbye too, to any prospect of the SDLP rowing in behind the UUP’s proposals for an arrangement which sidesteps executive devolution and keeps a level of direct rule for the foreseeable future. Put bluntly, these circles cannot be squared. None of the parties will agree to proposals from the other and I don’t detect the tiniest hint of their willingness to compromise in key areas.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote of giving the Agreement the last rites. The life-support strategy isn’t working and the electorate, albeit for different reasons, have already accepted that the Agreement is a goner. There is no expectation of success, but there is a palpably growing sense of anger that the trappings of office are still available. What we are seeing now, and it is a particularly worrying development for the unionist vote, which has been declining for years anyway, is a withdrawal of support for devolution in general. Electoral disaster will follow if the unionist parties are of one opinion and their electorate is of another. The DUP may have learned more from the UUP’s fortunes than they would ever dare admit.