The Government’s gone missing…

Paul Bew once famously christened (back in 2003, I think) the prospect of Sinn Fein and the DUP working together as a Hitler Stalin Pact: ie that it might work for a while, but only in the short term. I’ve always been sceptical of that view, and remain so. Yet in recent weeks (most notably since the 8th May passed with no resolution of the devolution of Policing and Justice, and before the new FM took over) things have be far from smooth. Now it seems that Sinn Fein and the DUP cancelled last week’s Executive meeting. Reg Empey:

“When there is a failure to meet, discussions are postponed, leading the public to question the Executive’s maturity to take on additional responsibilities such as policing and justice. If people don’t feel that we have done enough on bread and butter issues then how can we take [policing and justice powers] on?”

This last may be a reference to Martina Anderson’s complaint that at the limited fiscal competences of the Assembly. An SDLP ‘source’ agreed with Empey:

“Reg is absolutely right, it’s actually much worse than that. What’s more, things have worsened under the new [DUP] leadership. Issues have not been progressed, leading to a build-up of non-contentious stuff. The DUP and Sinn Féin are in total control of the Executive’s agenda. It seems that Sinn Féin is fighting back against the DUP’s ‘triple lock’ veto on policing and justice.”

The reason for the hiatus at the top of government is the ongoing discussions between the two big parties:

Sinn Féin and the DUP are involved in discussions as people know . . . They are aimed at resolving a range of outstanding issues, issues both inside and outside the Executive including the transfer of powers on policing and justice. Those discussions are ongoing.”

It would appear that this mandatory coalition is mandatory only when it suits ‘Hitler and Stalin’ for it to be so. It appears to be part of Sinn Fein’s ongoing efforts to ‘interfere with that indigenous deal’ “put together by SF and the DUP”.

There is more than a sense that the optics being played for all they are worth. But in putting their own bilateral disputes ahead of their mandatory Executive duties, they are treating the Institutions they lauded just last year with contempt. Yet the truth is, neither party has much alternative but to make this work. But that should be in the transparent interest of the people of Northern Ireland.

In the meantime, they will continue to lift Ministerial salaries, whilst immersing themselves in secret, and extra governmental disputes.

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

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