Peace, yes but no end to Peace Process™

Speaking on Inside Politics at 12 noon today Martin McGuinness warns that the November deadline will not be good enough for the DUP, but that the governments must not wait for them:

“If they’re ready to do a deal by the spring of next year, then they can come on board,” he said. The governments must press on with the new partnership arrangements they say they are prepared to put in place immediately after the DUP, as it appears, refuse to do the deal.

“But that must not, under any circumstances, in any way, affect the plans of the British prime minister and the taoiseach to call a halt to all of this on 24 November. They must press on with the new partnership arrangements that they say they are prepared to put in place immediately after the DUP, as it appears, refuse to do the deal.”

It’s not a new line. It’s exactly what Gerry Adams said the week before the negotiations towards a comprehensive agreement died in December 2004. Shortly afterwards the repubican movement’s annus horriblilus began. But even then as we noted at the time, by the rules of the game neither of these parties can move on without the other.

That the DUP and Sinn Fein each share this constantly repeating line is interesting in itself. At best it indicates the Groundhog Day scenario that Noel Whelan argued nearly two years ago affords them comfortable front row seats without ever having to venture any of the political capital accumulated in the wake of ousting the previous incumbents.

This makes considerable sense, and is one of the reasons why Davy Adams in yesterday’s Irish Times argues that notional timetables don’t matter, these two are not interested in closing a deal. Indeed, the Conservative shadow Secretary of State has been breifing that November 2007 is a more realistic option for closure. These two reluctant dance partners may yet make even that look like Polyanna-esque optimism.

We have gone well beyond the time when there are any substantial visible issues blocking the deal to bring closure to the Peace Process™. Everything revolves around the interests of the two incumbents. The DUP won’t do a deal, until they get the optimum climatic condition for a deal. At this stage, that does not seem to require what the Americans (and latterly the Irish) say should happen by November: ie that SF join the Policing Board. So whilst the bar is reportedly high, the party is not setting itself impossible terms to do a deal if it sees fit.

Sinn Fein, inscrutable as ever, have played every stage as hard as they possibly can. From McGuinness’ remarks this morning, their game plan seems to be to keep everything as tight as they can around the IRA, get to November banking on the widely predicted no show from the DUP, and then look hammer them hammer them in the lengthening ‘blame war’. They will not move on policing until there is serious pressure from within. As Mitchel McLaughlin let slip last month, this is a long war by other means. Even if there is a deal in November that ‘war’ will not be ending any time soon.

However hateful a thought, Northern Ireland’s politicians will not be part of the solution to its long term economic crisis for some time to come. But, stranded on the sidelines, neither will they be, necessarily, part of the problem. Sinn Fein in particular has no appetite for imposing some of the tough measures thought to be needed to address those, and whatever its core, right of centre values, the DUP remains a populist party with no appetite for alienating it base vote. Westminster will continue the favour of taking unpopular measures and simultaneously giving our local incumbents the opportunity of making political hay in protesting them.

As far as Law and Order is concerned, as Davy Adams point out, much has already been done to lessen criminality already. Organised Crime continues with tacit political sponsorship. But control over the wrapping up operation will remain beyond political control and with civil servants in the Assets Recovery Agency and the PSNI. Other necessary reforms will be fought out over time, and ground slowly into shape.

Though it is impossible to say how fit for purpose that final shape will be, it will no doubt be crucial to the future peace and stablity of Northern Ireland that it is got right.