Tom Kelly ponders the importance of trust, and the lack of it, not simply between the parties in Northern Ireland, but between them and the British Government itself. He also puts a coherent argument against the downgrading of the Assembly to a consultative role.
…the British government seems to think that the trust issue does not affect them. Now there is a surprising British interpretation of native affairs. This is the same British government that ruined the middle ground of Northern politics by excluding both the SDLP and UUP from negotiations. Does Blair really think that Durkan and Empey would like to find themselves on a plane about to crash with Paisley and Adams, only to find that Jonathan Powell was in charge of the two remaining parachutes?
Does anyone think that the British/Provisional spy ring engenders much trust between Sinn Féin and the government? What about the families of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson – do they and the rest of the nationalist community trust the government that wants to muzzle the truth out of any potential inquiry? Having watched Blair lure Trimble to his political demise does the prime minister think that Paisley will want to end his career in the belly of the Labour whale? Trust is something successive British governments would not know much about. It’s usually the first thing parked at the front door of Whitehall.
But further he puts a coherent argument why no nationalist, in Sinn Fein or the SDLP is ever likely to plump for a shadow Assembly:
From a nationalist point of view there is absolutely no reason to participate in what amounts to little more than a flattery forum. To enter an assembly as proposed would be an act of betrayal of anyone who voted for the Good Friday Agreement. The very minimum any nationalist should expect is that Irish ministers as well as British ministers should take to the floor of Stormont, either in committee or as a full house to answer questions relevant to cross border bodies and initiatives involving both governments.
To propose an assembly format akin to Welsh devolution even on a six-month basis would spell the end of the Belfast Agreement in spirit and law. If the assembly is recalled and if after six weeks it is incapable of agreeing an executive, no serious nationalist could disagree with the assertion by Martin McGuinness that it should be closed down and the two governments should implement a form of joint authority.
Anyone who has ever witnessed the (albeit high tech) tedium of watching the Welsh Assembly vote on proposed amendments to UK legislation will know precisely what he’s getting at.
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