Today’s editorial in the Irish Times is worth reproducing in full. It seems that this long game of ‘catch up’ (accepting the principle of power sharing in the case of the DUP and full acceptance of the state by Sinn Fein) with the Belfast Agreement of 1998 is drawing to a close. The Irish Times is refusing to count chickens before it hatches. Potentially corrosive side deals, it warns, will not provide the confidence required within the unionist community, nor indeed within a growing section of the nationalist community. Sinn Féin and NI policing – The Irish Times
What was implicit in signing up to the Belfast Agreement almost nine years ago would seem now to have come to pass. The ardcomhairle of Sinn Féin supported the recommendation of its president, Gerry Adams, yesterday to hold an ardfheis next month to support policing in Northern Ireland. This is, indeed, a seismic development. Once republicans cross the policing Rubicon, there really can be no turning back.
Yet, it is wise to proceed, on the basis of past performance, with caution. There must be an understanding that the latest intensive negotiation has been multilateral, extending beyond Downing Street and Sinn Féin to include the Democratic Unionist Party. That would mean that there are none of the infamous “side-bar” deals about which the SDLP has frequently complained in the past. A fudge, on this occasion, would be capable of surprising a nervous unionist leadership and ditching the hopes dramatically raised by Mr Adams’ welcome statement. It will not work.
Our Northern Editor, Gerry Moriarty, observed yesterday that “for this to work … Dr Paisley must follow an unwritten but clearly understood script”. In peace process terms, there must be a choreography.
It is significant that the DUP leader did not depart from the script of the St Andrews Agreement in vowing to test “in word and deed” any republican commitment to support the PSNI while encouraging their constituents likewise to co-operate with the police and uphold the decisions of the courts. Dr Paisley will be expected to agree to the latest compromise proposal on the devolution of policing and justice powers. It would seem this would defer the prospect of a DUP or Sinn Féin justice ministry until at least 2011, while enabling the St Andrews target for transfer of powers by May 2008.
This will be too much for those in the DUP who remain against any deal. It will be painful for those, like MPs Gregory Campbell and Nigel Dodds, who appear to favour an accommodation but would prefer to await the appointment of Tony Blair’s successor.
It goes on to note a major inconvenient truth for the DUP:
After a lifetime of playing opposition politics, however, and denouncing all compromises, it is not difficult to understand the nervousness of many in the DUP. For all of their protestations to the contrary, they are following a similar path to the Ulster Unionists under David Trimble in seeking to secure the future of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom while at the same time ensuring that the constitutional alternative, a united Ireland, is pursued by purely peaceful means.
Yet, as our London Editor, Frank Millar, has opined often, in staking his position on the policing issue, Dr Paisley has raised the prospect of a prize which eluded Mr Trimble, one of the original architects of the Belfast Agreement. If Sinn Féin delivers, then the DUP should seize it.
© 2006 The Irish Times
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