Fionnuala O’Connor with a typically stylish description of the summer stalemate
There was always going to be regression after the Chuckling season, since DUP and republican grassroots alike lost taste for the spectacle not long after it began. In Ardoyne and Carrickmore, people might have accepted that synchronised smiles were part of the deal, but they soon started grating. Martin McGuinness might not have minded the older Ian Paisley dubbing him “the deputy” and posing as prime minister, but the republican faithful flinched. The DUP, having had no notion it was coming, found it tougher to tolerate the constant vision of the Reverend Ian side by side with that man McGuinness, the two of them aglow with mirth. The Paisley afterglow faded with brutal rapidity. Watching the aged bent head in the Assembly chamber as Brown spoke, the Paisley dominance seemed far in the past.
For Sinn Féin, the summer stalemate was a breathing space, marred only by splinter republican violence. Months of being poked in the eye by the DUP’s jeering and sneering brigade over the Irish tongue and education played badly in what republicans call “the base”, among supporters who have bitten tongues and swallowed hard. Every patronising reminder from a DUP front-runner that theirs is the largest party and sees no need to consider nationalist sensitivities makes it harder to sustain the illusion of Stormont as transition to a united Ireland – which ever more clearly has no resonance in the South, and little enough any longer in republican heartlands. Retaliation took the form of repeated lectures from Adams on the failings of others and the superiority of republicans. When words clearly lack impact, he dresses to impress. So the dark-suited gathering round the table of all six party leaders with Brown and Northern Secretary Shaun Woodward was enlivened by the bright jacket of Progressive Unionist Dawn Purvis, and two men in their shirtsleeves: Woodward, and Adams – as always going one better in the informality stakes by resolute, revolutionary tielessness.
Meanwhile an anonymous Sinn Féin source has been talking to the Irish Times’ Gerry Moriarty
One Sinn Féin talks source suggested there was room for “creative” thinking which would allow middle-ground to be found on the issue. “Gordon Brown identified what is absent, a timeframe. ‘Set the date’ for devolving policing and justice, he said to Peter Robinson,” the source said. “If Peter Robinson at least gave an indication of what his timeframe was then people could judge whether this was workable or not. He needs to call this.”
Mr Robinson several times has given a qualified commitment to the transfer of these powers, arguing that the DUP wants this devolution to happen but only when the party felt there was public confidence that the time was right for such a move. Sinn Féin seemed to be indicating that if Mr Robinson were more forthcoming on a date – even if it were set in some “creative” or qualified manner – then the political deadlock could be broken.