And if you find Peter Shirlow’s viewpoint too pessimistic, there is an alternative. From his academic colleague at Queen’s, Paul Bew – soon to be in another place but, for now, writing in the Sunday Independent [free reg req]
The British government insists that all will be well. British officials acknowledge that neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein is exactly focused on reconciliation, but they believe that the power-sharing structures of the Good Friday Agreement are so strong that they will have no alternative but to compromise, in a dictatorship of political correctness presided over by the province’s leading ethnic warriors.
Adds for the benefit of those ideologically opposed to the free registration.. I thought I’d add more of the substance from the article
The Northern Ireland Office even believes that the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP failed to co-operate effectively because they were always being undermined by Paisley and Adams respectively. This time, at least, that problem has gone away.
There is some intergovernmental concern as to whether Dr Paisley realises that he is not going to be the prime minister of Northern Ireland in the way that Craigavon or Brookeborough were, but rather locked into a political co-habitation with Mr McGuinness, who has an equal status.
Does he know the truth, officials worry. But in the main the governments believe – not without reason – that Dr Paisley and Mr McGuinness have mellowed and the new arrangements will work satisfactorily.
They will have taken encouragement from Mr McGuinness’s tone on Thursday when he moved away from the talk of both Mr Adams and Dr Paisley, who have in recent days been projecting a battle a day. Mr McGuinness talked instead of mutual back-scratching. The outcome may be a little unsavoury for some sensitive souls, but it is, after all, what the people of Northern Ireland voted for.
This is, of course, true, but they voted in a particular context determined by intergovernmental policy which prioritised the survival of the Adams leadership over everything else.
As late as 2005, the IRA was publicly threatening a return to war, proof that it perceived that such a threat – long after 9/11, long after Omagh – was taken seriously by both governments. The result was the marginalisation of the SDLP in the 2001 Westminster general election and of the Ulster Unionists in the 2003 Assembly elections.
The insurance policy for the governments lay in the belief that the DUP’s opposition to the Belfast Agreement wasalways more rhetorical than substantive. The outcome may be aesthetically unappealing, but it is a triumph for London and Dublin. Will the deal be done by March 26? The DUP lieutenants are giving the impression that there will be a delay and that there is tough negotiating ahead. In fact, their leverage with the Treasury has already gone. Now that Paisley has overcome his dissidents, what need of further bribes?
Their leverage on policing is also reduced. The US State Department, which took a tougher line on this than the British or Irish Governments, is now likely to say that in the light of Mr Adams’s decisive move, it is time for the DUP to reciprocate. Any St Patrick’s Day events in Washington will be dominated by talk of the need for completion.
If the DUP is serious, as its election manifesto suggests, about disbanding IRA paramilitary structures, this cannot be achieved in any short period of time. It is, however, more likely that further moves by the Provisionals on the policing issue will be taken as proof of the said dismantling.
It may take some time for all this to play out, and both Mr Adams (with the Irish election in mind) and Mr Blair (with his legacy in mind) can afford to wait a few weeks.