How implausible is stable agreement?

Brian Feeney in the Sunday Business Post picks up on the figures in the election and wonders since the so-called ‘moderates’ made heims of working together, why should we believe Sinn Fein and the DUP can do what Trimble and Mallon could not?

When David Trimble and Seamus Mallon were First and Deputy First Ministers it was difficult enough to get them to agree on anything, even down to the design of number plates for Northern registered cars. They operated from opposite ends of the huge Stormont building and communicated as little as possible.

How much more improbable will communication, let alone agreement be between the putative First and Deputy First Ministers, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness? The assembly operates on cross-community consensus. However, the election results mean that the DUP and Sinn Fein control their respective community assent.

Either of them can veto any important matter affecting society in the North. In the first assembly in 1998 the SDLP needed the cooperation of Sinn Fein to exercise that power. Back then the UUP also fell short of complete control of unionist assent. It’s all different now with the DUP and SF ruling the roost. How will an assembly work with two parties, whose leaders do not speak to each other, controlling its business?

The answer is, there is no answer: until they actually do something. However circumstances have changed since we last had a real legislative Assembly in October 2002.

There is no one to the right of these two parties, so there is, perhaps, less need to indulge in regressive symbolic gestures. One suspects that if the Iterative Prisoners Dilemma rules hold between what increasingly Northern Ireland’s two monoliths, the battlegrounds will be over real and substantive issues, rather than fake signals to the base that they are not really going soft on the other. Which should leave them emotionally available to one another to strike deals, where deals are mutually desirable.

For all that it sounds negative, the best chance of this working lies in the fact that both of these parties are alert to the perils of the Sucker’s Payoff.

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