Gerry Kelly has said Sinn Fein will work the Assembly, but will not participate in any function outside that ascribed to it in the Belfast Agreement. Does that sound like the none too subtle dropping of a timetable for restoration?As is often the case Sinn Fein is notoriously hard to interpret in such tight situations; their statements are often more important for what they don’t say as what they do. On Saturday for instance Pat Doherty sounded as hard line as ever:
We believe that the suspension should be lifted and the Assembly reconvened to elect a First and Deputy First Minster and the appointment of Ministers. If this fails to happen then the Assembly should be scrapped and the salaries paid to the MLAs should be withdrawn. The governments should then proceed with all of the outstanding aspects of the Agreement.
But the demand for a rigid timetable for re-introduction of the Executive has gone, and appears to have shifted onto a more pragmatic call for the functions of the Assembly to remain as per the original. The outsiding problem – ie the six week deadline can be dealt with by the UK government in terms of the new legislation being planned by Secretary of State Hain.
So, latest predictions?
The smart money is moving towards Spring 2007. That would leave everyone just enough time to prepare for the next Assembly election in May. In addition Sinn Fein will be in full cry for the General Elections in the Republic. If that’s the way it goes, Sinn Fein get a timetable that they might very well have planned for – virtually synchronised elections North and South.
Whilst the DUP get the kudos for the IRA’s disarmament and the sense that in the end, Sinn Fein has slowly come onto their ground in the end.
So was it crafty piece of win-win manship or an accident of destiny? You decide.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty