“The process, at least, goes on.”

The Irish Times Frank Millar was among the first journalists to focus on the lack of detail in certain areas of the St Andrews Agreement, as noted here. In today’s paper he argues[subs req] that by honing in on the issue of policing, as noted in interviews with the various players in May, and with Mitchell Reiss in June, the DUP leader Ian Paisley “has established a bottom line which the Americans support and which neither the British nor Irish governments can surely expect him to abandon. Second – should Sinn Féin oblige – he has raised the prospect for a massive advance which, in the end, eluded Mr Trimble.”From the Irish Times article[subs req]

Those still doubtful about the pragmatic nature of Dr Paisley’s new position might also take instruction from the complaints laid against him by leading critics like Jim Allister and Robert McCartney. Both rightly discern that there is nothing in the St Andrews Agreement, for example, requiring the disbandment of the IRA. Dr Paisley’s conclusion apparently is that acceptance of the PSNI would mark the end of the ideological road for republicans and render the IRA “defunct” – though he will hardly welcome a reminder that this is the “big picture” view Mr Blair and Mr Ahern previously urged on Mr Trimble.

The question of the moment therefore might appear to be whether some compromise can be found to meet the November 24th “deadline” for nominating first and deputy first ministers – while allowing that Martin McGuinness will not pre-empt some future decision on policing by a special Sinn Féin ardfheis. However, that might be to miss the point that the highly conditional endorsements of St Andrews acceptable to both governments suggest all of these deadlines may in fact prove endlessly flexible.

Thursday night’s DUP statement certainly suggests it simply intends to leapfrog this one: “As Sinn Féin is not yet ready to take the decisive step forward on policing, the DUP will not be required to commit to any aspect of power-sharing in advance.”

It would even appear that that position could carry the DUP all the way into the planned March 7th election, since there is no indication yet that Sinn Féin is committed to take a final decision on policing before the planned electoral “endorsement” of the St Andrews deal – and seemingly nothing in it requiring them to do so. Thus we could be facing into yet another “election to process”, surely prompting questions as to why, and to whose benefit?

Veteran peace processors on the other hand suggest the publication of the new pledge of ministerial office in British legislation due next week will square the circle – leaving no one in any doubt as to what is to happen come March 26th and the scheduled date for appointing an Executive. Some DUP modernisers likewise regarded Monday’s statement by Sinn Féin’s ardchomhairle as simply “holding” to a position which the Adams leadership will change in its own good time.

Dr Paisley, by contrast, detected a possible step backwards in the statement combining a reiteration of the party’s long-declared position with rejection of any role for MI5 in “civic policing” of the kind defined in the St Andrews annex detailing the new arrangements for handling “national security” issues.

The two governments will trust Mr Adams bluffing, since he surely knows this is one fight with the British he cannot expect to win. That said, it would seem a curious way in which to prepare the republican constituency for arguably its most neuralgic decision of the entire peace process.

At this writing all that seems certain is that Mr Adams won’t be stretching himself to resolve this issue in accordance with London’s timetable – and that Dr Paisley may have to wait some time yet to discover if this generation of republican leaders ever will on his terms. The process, at least, goes on.

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