“Don’t be so cynical”

While I have already noted the latest U-turn by the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, on the off-again/on-again assembly, it’s worth detailing the events, as related by Gerry Moriarty in the Irish Times[subs req]. Over the space of 45 minutes on Thursday he received two phone calls from the NIO, the first telling him there was no assembly business next week, the second telling him there was.. and between those calls there were also two statements by the DUP leader Ian Paisley..From the Irish Times:

The hope is that the report of Independent Monitoring Commission in October will deliver stronger proof that the IRA is eschewing criminality and paramilitarism, and that the following month Dr Paisley will indicate he is prepared to do business with Gerry Adams.

Maybe not specifically by November 24th – the deadline for a deal set by the governments – but at least if there is by then a declaration of intent or an agreement in principle by the DUP to share power with Sinn Féin, then politics could loosen up in the new year. That’s the plan, and it’s not a bad one if everybody plays to the script. But this week there was a real danger of this November 24th project descending into farce. Consider this for example. At 5pm on Thursday I got a phone call from a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) spokesman to say that Mr Hain had decided the Assembly would not sit next week.

I strolled over to City Hall to cover the election of SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy as the new Belfast lord mayor. Mr McCarthy is a former Workers’ Party member who was interned in the 1970s as an alleged Official IRA member, so things do change. In the hall I was chatting to the DUP’s Nigel Dodds who said that his boss Dr Paisley was about to issue a statement threatening to boycott the preparation for government committee if the Assembly did not sit next week.

I returned to the office after the election and lo and behold there were two e-mails from Dr Paisley.

One at 5.16pm warning of the boycott, the other at 5.43pm saying he was now happy he had received a personal assurance from Mr Hain that the Assembly would sit after all. Just then a call came through from another NIO spokesman confirming the Assembly would convene. Some way to run a country, I put it to him.

“Don’t be so cynical,” he said, “this shows that we do listen to politicians.” What he meant, I think, is that Mr Hain listens to Dr Paisley because he’s the politician who will determine whether or not there ever will be a deal. “The important thing is that Ian Paisley is still in the process. He has to make his move, but he needs more time,” said one senior London source.

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