Getting SF off the timeline hook, Part One?

So the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle has spoken. The re-worded motion, if passed, would remove all power of discretion from the party’s conference body (the Ard Fheis) to the party’s executive (the Ard Comhairle). The question remains whether Sinn Fein is simply representing the same old insoluable conumdrum in a new form, or giving itself (and Blair) a ‘now get out of that’ clause. As Pete has previously noted, conditionality resides in both the party’s top and bottom line. They will back the police, but:

…only when the power-sharing institutions are established and when the Ard Chomhairle is satisfied that the policing and justice powers will be transferred.

No mention of timeframes. But here’s an interesting view from London (possibly, though not certainly, from inside Number 10):

A senior London source appeared sanguine about this element of the motion, stating that “the clear understanding” was that as soon as such an ardfheis motion was passed Sinn Féin would provide demonstrable support for the police.

Yet, under the St Andrews arrangements, the British government is not in a position to arbitrate on such matters, if it is to meet SF’s previously rigid timelining requirement. However, this Sinn Fein motion appears to give the leadership scope to fudge the timeline.

In which case the acid test London has in mind may simply be whether Martin McGuinness is then in a position to take the ministerial oath:

(cd) to uphold the rule of law based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts as set out in paragraph 6 of the St Andrews Agreement;”.

But can “power-sharing institutions” be established before Martin takes that oath of office? Or, if not, what acid test have the British got in mind?

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  • micky

    Paddy Power odds – demonstrable support

    XX handed in for McCartney murder, with witness statements to follow

    Tohill 4 turned in

    Northern Bank notes with fingerprints mysteriously turning up in Poleglass and Ardoyne

    Gerry McGeough turned in

    Gerry Adams admits being in the IRA

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Sounds like a good start.

  • Ian

    Here’s a suggestion: How about a trade-off whereby the March 07 deadline for resumption of power-sharing is delayed to some time in the autumn (to allow for a longer ‘testing period’ of SF’s practical support for policing and therefore giving the DUP rank longer to get their head round the idea of sharing power with SF), whilst an agreed date is set NOW for devolution of justice powers by May 08? (i.e. the latter date to be AGREED BY THE DUP as soon as SF pass the AF motion – and on that basis SF join the Policing Board, cooperate with police, etc prior to the election).

    From the DUP’s perspective, this is a much neater solution than their current confused, mixed-messages policy whereby it’s not clear if the ‘testing period’ should apply to devolution of justice only or to any devolution involving SF (depending whose utterances from the DUP camp you listen to).

    Logically, surely the devolution of justice to a NON-Sinn Fein Minister (the agreed ‘modality’) should be less problematic for the DUP than devolution of the DFM or other portfolios to SF? i.e. at the point when the DUP consider that SF have passed the ‘community confidence’ test to gain the Education Ministry, thus allowing devolution to commence, then why at that same point don’t the SDLP or UUP pass the ‘community confidence’ test to gain the Justice Ministry?

    And from SF’s perspective, the most important of the two dates seems to be the May 08 one, as they are making great play of the fact that the police must be locally accountable if SF are to support them. They should also bear in mind that the March 07 date will go by default anyway if agreement isn’t reached before the election is called.

    So whilst SF won’t like the idea of a ‘contamination period’, at least it would be of a finite, pre-agreed length of time (just over a year until devolution is completed including justice – that’s nothing really when you bear in mind that over 4 years have passed since the ‘Stormontgate’ incident).

    By making this suggestion now I’m just trying to save a lot of faffing around as it’ll probably be the basis of eventual agreement between the two parties, after a few more months of the ongoing slanging match.

  • Rubicon

    Ian – I’m confused. Is it a set time you suggest or a given outcome? Unionism doesn’t trust SF will deliver and the last 9 years gives them cause for such a belief. Are you saying ‘date’ or ‘delivery’? If you can get both then you may have a solution. The past suggests they are alternates.

    I don’t think the May ’08 ‘deadline’ is written in republican hearts – except that the AF required a date.

    On a not altogether different point – does anyone know which of the 2 types of cross-community vote is required for the devolution of P&J? There’s the 1st and Dep. 1st standard – and then there’s the 40/40/60.

  • páid

    This is the old Trimble post-dated cheque routine; another recipe for fudge.

    Without wanting to go too far down the Greenflag route, I am long convinced that this process of negotiation, allegations of bad faith, deadlines, walkouts, elections, threats, side-deals, reviews etc. is in itself the final goal.

    No one dies, you see.

  • NIRSucks

    Off topic, but can I just thank whoever removed the comments from an earlier thread – you spared my blushes. 😉

  • Ian

    “Ian – I’m confused. Is it a set time you suggest or a given outcome? Unionism doesn’t trust SF will deliver and the last 9 years gives them cause for such a belief. Are you saying ‘date’ or ‘delivery’? If you can get both then you may have a solution. The past suggests they are alternates.”

    I’m suggesting a trade-off where flexibility is applied to the first date (currently fixed at 26th March 2007) in return for a firmer deadline for the second date.

    From SF’s perspective I’m saying that slippage of the first date will be a fait accompli if SF and the DUP don’t come to an ‘understanding’ before the elections are due to be called. By accepting the delay in the start of devolution as a negotiating position, SF may be able to achieve a firmer deadline for justice being devolved.

    I’m selling the idea to DUP types by pointing out that it is more logical in terms of their policy, and could be easier to sell to the sceptics amongst their ranks. Where is the logic in going into the election saying, “The testing period for SF to enter the Executive may be a lot shorter than we had intended, but it’s okay because we’ve held firm on not setting a date when the SDLP MIGHT get the Justice Ministry” [Since it’s already agreed that SF won’t get the post.] ?

    If the whole thing falls apart (with blame equally apportioned on SF and DUP) because SF haven’t got a fixed date for devolution of justice, and the DUP’s stubborn refusal to agree to one is not based on any logical premise, then clearly when the parties resume the next round of ne-Godot-iations, then the next deal will have to involve a fixed date for devolution of justice, so why can’t they make an agreement now and save on 6 months of faffing around?

    Unless the faffing around is the be all and end all of the process, which was páid’s point in post 5.

    On the cross-community vote question, I think it’s a 50/50/50 requirement.

  • Mick Fealty

    Páid ,

    “I am long convinced that this process of negotiation, allegations of bad faith, deadlines, walkouts, elections, threats, side-deals, reviews etc. is in itself the final goal.

    No one dies, you see.”

    That’s about as succinct a description of this Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma as we are likely to get.

    Despite the long line of holding/goading statements, neither of these two parties can unseat the other. As long as London and Dublin have the political will this iterative process can theoretically continue, ad infinitum.

    Neither of them are going to fold all their cards, although they may surrender some in order to keep the game alive. At the outset, Sinn Fein undoubtedly had the stronger hand. Unionist neuralgia over decommissioning, helped split them and eventually unseat Trimble. Now, the DUP holds the trump.

    Though, as the damp political squib of IRA decommissioning demonstrates, you can hold a trump card too long.

    Personally, I doubt the value to either party to keep this going forever. The perception of political indolence in Northern Ireland is one possible cause of increasing voter/media apathy towards Sinn Fein in the Republic. And, in any case, neither party can get what their own fundamentalists want most: ie, total victory over ‘the other’.

    There are similar constraints on the DUP. To press home the advantage it currently has over the UUP, it needs a deal it can both sell to a significant proportion of its hard liners and one that shows it can take risks. As I have said in the past, there is little point accumulating political capital, if you don’t know how to spend it.

    Many in the DUP are keen to press on beyond its current position at the Gates of Vienna, and drive straight into the prosperous middle class vote. Inveterate oppositionalism will only keep them camped outside. Long term (or more importantly, pointless) inactivity, and your camp followers will begin to lose interest, and drift away.

  • Rubicon

    Mick – tend to agree with that as a longer term prognosis but in less than 2 months there’s an election and 3 weeks after that a decision to be made. There’s little sign of either side adopting pragmatic approaches like Ian’s – it involves too great a risk. Even if SF manage to get themselves out of their self-imposed mess of targets/deadlines and negotiations occurring in the glare of the media spotlight – they haven’t got themselves out of having to take actions and make decisions. The DUP show no sign of taking that pressure off.

    Without SF delivery they remain holding the ball – at least from a unionist perspective (and from many nationalists perspectives too). Those in the DUP who may wish to invest accumulated capital and “press on beyond its current position” won’t get that opportunity while the issue around which DUP’ers agree remains; i.e., delivery.

    Where the DUP seem to divide is on what constitutes delivery and there’s a whole spectrum of views there – from lifetimes to nominating to the Policing Boards.

    SF need to identify whether the DUP can deliver – or if not – who in the parties will accept power-sharing. The mandates of parties and unionist representatives will need to be assessed if the DUP as a whole can’t deliver. SF bowling short this side of the election will deny themselves that information.

    SF need to do more than just make demands. They have the opportunity to test unionism in this election – but can only do so in the context of delivery.

    I wonder if they’ll take it? Many SF supporters excuse opportunities lost by referring to a ‘long war’.

    There must be something in the water up here that makes people risk averse. Look at the lack of enterprise here – it’s not only our politicians … but I’ll hold off from that for another day 😉

  • Ian

    “in less than 2 months there’s an election and 3 weeks after that a decision to be made”

    Rubicon, check out my posts in the thread entitled “Back to Plan A, then..” I make the point that the decision has to be made BEFORE the election. If the DUP are going to fudge the issue then what’s the point of holding the election at all, since it’s only been called to get the DUP off the hook of their earlier mandate which was based on a contradictory approach to power-sharing with SF.

    I reckon the DUPes have tried to have their cake and eat it by delaying any internal bloodletting till after the election but I don’t think that the two governments will stand for that approach. In order for the election to go ahead, two things are required in accordance with the St Andrew’s Agreement:

    (1) SF pass their AF motion and announce their intention to take the new pledge of office on the 26th of March and start implementing support for the police by that date BUT only after the election has given them a mandate to do so – SF have to reverse their previously mandated policy of NOT supporting the police. (The DUP won’t like the lack of a ‘testing period’ but that isn’t required by StAA so tough! – this would be SF using the DUP’s own ‘mandate’ logic against them!)

    (2) The DUP declare their intention to take up posts on the 26th of March and take part in power-sharing. Any ‘testing’ of SF’s compliance with the pledge of office and wider support of the CJS is for the IMC to do, not the DUP. Nowhere in StAA does it state that the DUP have this role.

    If the DUP can’t make that commitment then the election should be called off and SF won’t have to actually implement their support for PSNI policy until a new agreement is reached – meanwhile they can crack on with support for the Gardai and academic selection is abolished etc etc.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ian,

    Whilst a testing period is not required, neither is there an enforceable deadline: just like the IRA was never required to decommission by the Belfast Agreement. I struggle to see how that can be unpicked?

  • Ian

    “Whilst a testing period is not required, neither is there an enforceable deadline”

    The St Andrews Agreement Act states that inclusive devolution will occur on 26th March provided SF have taken the new pledge of office, or else Hain pulls the plug and uses his ‘big stick’. Then we’re into the blame game.

    No deadline is ever enforceable if the DUP don’t want to play ball, but they’ll take the blame if they don’t sign up to power-sharing on March 26th provided SF haven’t defaulted. SF will only default if they don’t take the pledge. But the First and Deputy Minister posts have to be filled before the pledge of office can be taken, so it falls to Paisley to default first!

  • Mick Fealty

    Look, I have other things to do. So to be brief:

    “…they’ll [DUP] take the blame if they don’t sign up to power-sharing on March 26th provided SF haven’t defaulted.”

    Agreed.

    But the rest of your contention is nonsense. A deadline may not be absolutely enforceable but it carries penalties for anyone not coming up with the goods. 26th March is a deadline. But May 2008 is not. And much as GA would like it to, no amount of letters from number ten can change that.

    Ergo: devolution of P&J has no deadline (and no penalty for non-completion); devolution of everything else has.

    I’m sorry to be terse, but I hope that clears things up?

  • Ian

    Mick,

    You missed my point entirely! I’m talking about the 26th of March deadline, which you’ve just agreed is enforceable.

    Where did I mention the May 08 deadline? I’m considering a context whereby SF have fudged, dropped or bypassed their requirement for a deadline for devolution of justice. If they can do that, then that puts the pressure firmly on the DUP (I think you agree?).

    All I’m suggesting is that SF can achieve that pressure on the DUP without actually commencing support for the police, if that support is on hold pending the outcome of an election which won’t go ahead unless the DUP adopt a policy that will split them down the middle during the campaign!

  • Rubicon

    Ian – I’m far from being persuaded by your analysis. Let me deal with a few of the issues you’ve raised:

    1. You recognise the 26th March as a deadline – but what is enforceable about it? If the DUP don’t want to play there’s no game – simple as that. If by ‘enforceable’ you mean starting a blame game – yes – you’re right. Each party will make their own assessments and justify them to their electorates. IF the SF AF endorse the AC’s motion on the 28th we have a theoretical movement that rests with the AC to put in to practice. The DUP can stay together in rejecting that. Meanwhile, devolution in NI is put in stasis and the media will have a field day in a southern election where southern voters don’t much care about what the DUP do or don’t do. They may wonder why SF didn’t do. Who knows! Perhaps I’m mistaken – but ‘no delivery’ doesn’t seem wise to me. I’m thinking short-term though and am in no doubt there are those who think this is all part of a clever plan to win the ‘long war’. Hmmm.

    2. You say, “the First and Deputy Minister posts have to be filled before the pledge of office can be taken” and I fail to understand this. The posts are filled when the nominees take the pledge – they remain nominees before that.

    3. You say, “SF’s compliance with the pledge of office and wider support of the CJS is for the IMC to do, not the DUP”. Sorry – I don’t see that in any agreement reached to date or in any legislation. It’d be complete nonsense anyway – has SF signed up to the IMC determining progress while they object to its very existence?

    4. I agree with your assessment of why this election was called. If SF step up to the podium they are likely to learn that their trust in the DUP was misplaced. SF can’t win on this – but they’d a lot to do with bringing it about.

    5. Devolution on the 26th is possible if the AF’s motion (passed – let’s not assume that it will be) is put in practice. Its current phraseology is easy to read as no more than a negotiating tactic that removes the timeline and allows the leadership room and control. You don’t think that’s what the DUP are looking for – do you?

    It seems to me that the DUP have put SF on the ropes. SF can only put the DUP on the back foot if they deliver. The SF motion to the AF is far short of that. Either SF resolve that problem or they’ll be learning to deal with political decline – perhaps later than March 7th (though I’m not too sure) but not later than elections to the Dail.

    If GA can get this motion passed at the AF (and he has a real battle on his hands in doing that) the political capital can only return if invested immediately.

  • Trevor Kirkland

    Reading through the blog, i see some good material. I agree with the previous, Sf are on the ropes. To sign up to policing is to overturn their entire ideology. SFs line is to never sign up to any British institution, policing is the symbol of British rule in Ireland, that is why republicna shave been busy shoting policemen. UDR, soldiers and blowing up court houses. This is why 5 SFinners have resigned and Gerry McGeough is going to stand against them. Listening to him the other night on BBC he explained this is the heart of the entire movement.

  • Ian

    Rubicon (sorry about the delayed response):

    “1. You recognise the 26th March as a deadline – but what is enforceable about it? If the DUP don’t want to play there’s no game – simple as that.”

    I agree with that – it was Mick who made the distinction that March 26th is enforceable but May 2008 isn’t.

    “If by ‘enforceable’ you mean starting a blame game – yes – you’re right. Each party will make their own assessments and justify them to their electorates. IF the SF AF endorse the AC’s motion on the 28th we have a theoretical movement that rests with the AC to put in to practice. The DUP can stay together in rejecting that.”

    But the electorate won’t get to have their say if the election is cancelled. Unless the DUP sign up for the 26th March deadline in their election manifesto then the election shouldn’t go ahead.

    “Meanwhile, devolution in NI is put in stasis and the media will have a field day in a southern election where southern voters don’t much care about what the DUP do or don’t do. They may wonder why SF didn’t do. Who knows! Perhaps I’m mistaken – but ‘no delivery’ doesn’t seem wise to me.”

    But there’s no reason why SF can’t ‘deliver’ as regards support for the Garda as they are already accountable to Ireland-based elected members.

    “2. You say, “the First and Deputy Minister posts have to be filled before the pledge of office can be taken” and I fail to understand this. The posts are filled when the nominees take the pledge – they remain nominees before that.”

    Okay, nominations have to occur before the pledge of office is taken. If Paisley doesn’t nominate then McGuinness doesn’t have to take the pledge.

    “3. You say, “SF’s compliance with the pledge of office and wider support of the CJS is for the IMC to do, not the DUP”. Sorry – I don’t see that in any agreement reached to date or in any legislation.”

    One of the three statutory duties of the IMC is to report on compliance of Ministers with the Ministerial Pledge of Office.

    “It’d be complete nonsense anyway – has SF signed up to the IMC determining progress while they object to its very existence?”

    SF objected to its determinations on IRA decommissioning/activity, but have chosen to go down the judicial review route (incidentally, thereby showing some degree of faith in the British justicec system!) although that tactic hasn’t worked in their favour as of yet (have they reached the end of that particular road yet?)

    “It seems to me that the DUP have put SF on the ropes. SF can only put the DUP on the back foot if they deliver.”

    But ‘delivery’ as far as the St Andrews Agreement is concerned only requires SF to take the pledge and support policing on the 26th of March in tandem with the DUP resuming power-sharing. The DUP will find no comfort from StAA in terms of their ‘self-imposed’ requirement for a ‘testing period’.

    As far as SF are concerned if after their AF they can state their intention to take the pledge and support policing from the 26th of March, then it is the DUP who will be on the back foot, as they would have to reverse the policy agreed by their party executive if they are to comply with the StAA timetable.

    If the DUP can’t make that commitment before the Transitional Assembly is dissolved then the election shouldn’t go ahead as they should NOT have the luxury of being able to fudge the issue during the campaign.

  • Rubicon

    Ian – thanks for your considered reply. I’m about to go out the door here (conscript to Burns night) but I’ll think about your points.

    Take care,

    Rubicon

    PS – you’ve probably breathed life in to a thread at a most opportune time! 😉