Bertie and our latest last chance saloon…

Gary Kent was in Dubin this weekend for the meeting of the British Irish Interparliamentary Body. But, he says, Irish minds were elsewhere, to give the address. And Bertie delivered what could be his penultimate, ultimatum (26th March is the ‘last’ hurdle, this time out).By Gary Kent

The Body is once again a victim of timing.

The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has just delived a keynote speech which stressed the importance of the Northern Ireland parties complying with the 26th March deadline for the restoration of power-sharing.

He argued that direct rule was not what people had voted for in the 1998 referenda and quoted pundits who reckon that if this month’s deadline is missed it could be 5 or 10 years before it became possible again.

He told the Body that “failure to form an Executive as envisaged in the St Andrews Agreement would be a missed opportunity of historic proportions.”

He told Michael Mates that the British and Irish governments would not leave a vacuum but seek to “implement everything we could” in the Belfast Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement.

The only representative from Northern Ireland is the redoubtable Baroness Blood as the SDLP concentrates on the elections this week. The Unionists are equally busy and have not yet signed up to the Body. May Blood brings a keen eye to the discussion. But there’s a remoteness about some of the debates and Irish members are also looking forward to their own elections probably in May.

The debate on Northern Ireland started with the assumptions that the peace process has finished its job and that the political process is on the cusp. It was a coup to have the Taoiseach as a guest speaker but there’s not much he could say just hours before the poll.

So things are in limbo for the next few weeks but its certainly remarkable – as several mentioned here in Dublin – how the parties have been focusing on bread and butter issues such as water rates and that few flags if any are fluttering in the streets of the north.

This may seem prosaic compared to the ancestral voices of history.

Give me water rates and class politics any day

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