In the comments zone here ‘Driftwood’ points to Paul Bew’s article in the Spectator. And at the centre of it is his take on the proposed devolution of policing and justice powers. From the Spectator article
This is the nub of the matter. The British government believes that as long as Adams and McGuinnesss position is bolstered, the dissidents radical Republican ideology will have limited appeal. This is why the Northern Ireland Office is so desperate to see the devolution of policing and justice to Northern Ireland as the final instalments on the payments due to the Sinn Fein leadership for its part in the peace process. Since 2003 rightly or wrongly devolution of justice has been central to the negotiations.
The government is well aware that this is the last juicy plum it can offer to Sinn Fein. All the other goodies such as the release of prisoners or the lustration of the RUC have long since been delivered. In the 1990s, the Northern Ireland Office had a clear plan: make Sinn Fein believe that it was on a path of progress that would lead eventually to the achievement of its objectives.
We are now, however, in a different place. Sinn Feins political strategy has hit the rocks. In the last two elections it has gone backwards in the Irish Republic, depriving Mr Adams of his necessary all-Ireland political dimension.
Despite Sinn Feins continuing electoral hegemony within Northern nationalism, it is experiencing a sharp diminution in its activist base, both in the North and South. It is now conventional wisdom in Dublin that the current crisis in the Irish economy, significantly deeper than that in Britain, has severely weakened the case for Irish unity. Demographic realities in the North are not those envisaged with some tacit British encouragement by Sinn Fein in the 1990s.
Sinn Feins response has been predictable. Mr Adamss rhetoric has become noticeably more militant, and he continues, as always, as if the pro-consent clauses of the Good Friday Agreement which link Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom do not actually exist. More worrying is the strategy of tension on the streets. The recent closure of a police station in east Belfast led to a Sinn Fein public meeting a weird kind of ceremony of thanksgiving which was topped off by a ferocious anti-police riot which led officers to reply with plastic bullets.
This cannot mask the evidence of a broad-based malaise within Sinn Fein. The governments obsession with delivery of policing and justice, while understandable, obscures the fact that the problems of the Adams leadership are wider and deeper. But the obsession remains.
Even a journalist sympathetic to Adams’ position can see signs of those problems.