Peter Hain is looking for a 100% deal from the St Andrews
junket summit. This morning he also, slightly misleadingly, characterised the challenge as a two-headed beast: Sinn Fein must accept Policing and Unionists must accept power sharing. There is no doubt that Sinn Fein know what is expected of them. Gerry Adams’ rousing speech last night was the first time the party even sounded like it was even in the zone for a deal, when he said:
Sinn Fein is opposed to criminality of all kinds. Those who profit from crime have to be effectively challenged and put out of business. So too must those who target the elderly and vulnerable. Rapists and racists can have no refuge and our communities should not have to put up with the scourge of death drivers, or intimidation and lawlessness by criminal groups.
It is as close as Adams has managed to get to having a Clause Four moment. But read the detail, and it remains strictly aspirational. There is no question of him facing down his movement over policing and criminal justice, not yet at least.
Adams leads a movement, a significant part of which only last year offered the family of Robert McCartney to shoot the people it held responsible their brother’s killing. The family is still waiting for the help and support Adams himself promised he would give.
It was this that finally ripped to shreds whatever was left of the once mighty pan nationalist front, that reputedly stretched from the Clinton White House, through Dublin to the moderate SDLP and even the IRA itself. More than the DUP is uneasy about the possiblity of an easy deal emerging from St Andrews. The SDLP fought tooth and nail to stop legislation from going through Westminster last November, that would have allowed ‘on the run’ (OTRs) what amounts to an amnesty. This is likely to be one of the side issues most fought over.
Community Restorative Justice schemes, once touted by a prominent Sinn Fein MLA “as a viable alternative to the PSNI”, have been powerless to end a six month feud (involving over 600 attacks on a range of properties) against a single family in Adams’ own backyard in Ballymurphy.
Some commentators have argued that Paisley’s meeting with Sean Brady, the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh was a cheap PR trick to debunk the idea that his party did not (in that time honoured phrase) want a Catholic about the place. Considering the timing, it is a charge that’s hard to refute. But the principle of power sharing with nationalists has long since been accepted (albeit in the theory of their position papers) by the DUP. But sharing power with Sinn Fein remains the acid test.
The events of the last two years have only served to strengthen the DUP’s hand. A so-called heads of agreement document is what most pundits are backing as an outcome to St Andrews. One that would require consultation at least, and possibly a referendum or, more likely, fresh elections. We will be better able to judge on Friday to what extent a viable roadmap emerges.
Neither of these parties has a reputation for closing a deal. Indeed some worry that Sinn Fein would prefer to keep things open as long as possible. It is a party above all others that thinks and visions itself in the long rather than the short term. Its leaders are long accustomed to riding out the risks of political isolation.
On the today programme earlier this year, prominent Sinn Fein represntative Mitchel McLaughlin, let slip in an early morning interview on the Today programme that his party’s greatest achievement was the undermining of the confidence of the Unionist community.
This time, his party may just decide to gamble its considerable political fortune by finally closing a deal its opponents can actually live with.
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