From deadlock to deadlock…

Alex Kane was at Stormont in the rain on Friday. He is not impressed with a process that, apparently, has little discernible forward structure. He notes below that, “The DUP and Sinn Fein are being asked to dole out the top jobs in advance of an election in which it is the electorate who are supposed to make the decision about votes and seats”. Even more than the November 2003, this election (if it actually takes place) looks like an election with very little purpose.

Soap operas survive on an odd blend of the dull, the doolalley and, occasionally, the downright absurd; those moments when the storyline is stretched so far that credibility flies out the window. But even the most crackpot of scripts wouldn’t have been able to compete with yesterday’s rumble at the Assembly.

As toothless geriatric dinosaurs roared their over-rehearsed mantras at each other, we were treated to a literal and physical return of the Stone Age. Now, I know that some people will go to great lengths to disrupt David Ford’s moralistic monologues, so no-one was entirely surprised when the fire alarm sounded as he reached his third paragraph. But even the most cynical of MLAs would admit that Mr. Ford’s passionless righteousness is preferable to being stranded for hours in a sodden car park.

And what are we to make of Stone’s contribution to the proceedings? Absolutely nothing, is my advice. The guy is, and always has been, a nutter; and worse than that, the sort of nutter who is hero-worshipped by other nutters. He was released from prison as a consequence of a deal between unionists and republicans and yet there he was, complaining about those same unionists and republicans trying to create an environment in which young people won’t be sucked into paramilitarism. For all of his efforts to convince us that he had become a respectable artist and wordsmith, he reverted to sectarian type with a spray can and a holler of “No Surrender.” Put him back inside and leave him there.

Meanwhile, the day started with Ian Paisley making a speech in which he didn’t actually nominate himself, but nor did he rule out nominating himself in the near future. It would probably take the Hansard equivalent of the Rosetta Stone to understand the true meaning and nuance of the DUP’s position, but it didn’t actually matter, for Peter Hain would have interpreted a grunt and a burp as evidence that the show was still on the road. All that mattered was that the Doc said the words “there can only be a deal with Sinn Fein when…” because for the past forty years he has been saying that “there could never never be a deal with Sinn Fein.”

And am I the only one who regards this nominations farce as an affront to democracy? The DUP and Sinn Fein are being asked to dole out the top jobs in advance of an election in which it is the electorate who are supposed to make the decision about votes and seats. The only thing required from the political parties, all of them, was a commitment to form a government immediately after the election; and, in the continuing absence of that commitment, Mr. Hain should not have called an election. He should have stopped the salaries, locked the Stormont offices and refused to do anything until the parties got together, under their own steam, and hammered out the remaining problems. As it stands we are to have an election to yet another Assembly which has no guarantee of functioning.

The other problem, of course, is that what has become the St Andrews Act provides for power division rather than power-sharing, and the only administration it can hope to produce is one built on utter mistrust and mutual veto. Messrs Robinson and Adams would have us believe that the issue of accountability has been addressed, but it hasn’t. Accountability is based on the opportunity to hold a government to account; to hold the Executive and individual ministers to account; to challenge, amend and defeat government proposals; and, most important of all, to provide the electorate with a genuine choice between an outgoing government and a potential alternative. Some new mechanisms have been included, but they are too cumbersome to be effective and they cannot operate against a background of mandatory coalition in which chipping at each other will lead to mutually assured self destruction.

Yesterday was a bad day for politics, devolution and democracy. I can’t imagine that it is going to get any better in the near future.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 25th November 2006

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