With near perfect timing, Alex Kane outlines the problems with the so called Hitler/Stalin pact (comment watch alert for likely breaches of Godwin’s Law) of the DUP and Sinn Fein in the wake of the indigenous deal of St Andrews which allows for mutually desired obstruction (if not quite destruction) in the shape of their exclusive and reciprocal vetoes over any and all government action:
…since Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are actually co-equals the political equivalent of the two-headed pushmipullu and since neither can function without the knowledge and approval of the other, we now have government based on personal loathing and tunnel vision.
Neither can give a concession to the other, because both sold the St Andrews Agreement on the basis that they, individually, “ran the show”. The DUP is now hampered by the TUV on the right, while Sinn Fein is getting increasing stick from those republican diehards who wonder what part of “A Nation Once Again” is represented by Stormont, ministerial cars and support for the police.
Even the grassroots supporters of both parties are probably growing a little weary of the “we really are in control” mantra tumbling unconvincingly from the respective leaderships. Yes, the DUP can put the brakes on Sinn Fein ambitions and vice versa; but since neither can deliver an alternative, it simply means that no decision gets made. And the inability to thwart your opponent makes you look both weak and incompetent.
Kane is not hopeful of a genuine respite:
Well, as Sir Reg Empey said on Saturday, it seems inevitable that the British and Irish Prime Ministers will have to host an inter-party get-together in early September: which means that Peter and Gerry will trot off to some fancy-pants mansion with their shopping lists, and, in what amounts to car-boot diplomacy, will hand over some valuables in exchange for some tat, while blaming Gordon and Biffo for bullying them into compromise.
And both will then issue identically worded statements insisting, that “we took these risks and decisions in the name of peace and progress”. Let’s be honest, a blind, one-legged monkey could now orchestrate these regular farragoes.
And of the future:
Let’s face it, the DUP and Sinn Fein will not allow the structures and institutions to collapse. For that’s all that either of them has to show for 30 years of whingeing about the weakness and serial surrender of others, and anyway, it would probably take an exorcism or a stake through the heart to shift them from office at this stage.
The truth is that both are stuck in a time warp; believing that they can deliver their own separate and mutually contradictory agenda, even though the mechanisms they require don’t actually exist. Northern Ireland has changed, but the DUP and Sinn Fein are clinging firmly to the wreckage of their old ideologies and pretending that a retreat from the present realities is a possibility for them.
Interesting. Clearly as a member of the Ulster Unionists, Kane has a particular political axe to grind. However it is telling that when the First Minister Peter Robinson pointed out those things had been achieved by devolution, the flagship legislation he found himself talking up was free public transport for Senior Citizens; a measure brought in under the fitful leadership of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP.
The mutual veto has the potential to strangle any and all potential fruits of devolution. Arguably the controls on what could pass under the Belfast Agreement (ie, a cross community vote could be called if three members of the Executive objected) meant that vetoes were not the pure preserve of the two largest party blocks, with the result that there was a more permissive regime, which allowed a modicum of legislative reform and process.
There is word that the Assembly Review Committee is to be beefed up come September. But in bottling up top down control so tightly the system has become constipated, allowing none of the parties the latitude to make the far reaching reforms they promised in their manifestoes last year.
The citizens of Northern Ireland have some right to ask just exactly how exactly is this an improvement to the indifference of locally unmandated Ministers under the direct rule regime?
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