“Remarkably, we are still reduced to making it up as we go along…”

Tom McGurk with a perceptive piece on the likely consequences of a collapse in the Stormont Institutions. Despite the DUP’s electoral concerns over the TUV challenge, he calculates that the consequences this time out would prove more damaging for Sinn Fein than for those in the Unionist community:

To many others, devolved government just isn’t making much difference. But perhaps most worrying of all for the governments in London and Dublin, the dynamic needed to fuel genuine power-sharing appears increasingly absent.

So far, the power-sharing executive has had to resolve four significant and controversial items of business, and has failed on every one of them. Three years on, there is still no cross-party agreement on the 11-plus, about what to do with the Maze prison, on what role the Irish language should have, and, most recently, the burning question of the devolution of justice and police powers from London. So frustrated has Sinn Fein become with this issue that McGuinness has threatened, unusually, that if the situation is not resolved by Christmas, there ёwill be troubleҒ.

Once it seemed that, having finally got both sides in the door to the Northern power-sharing executive, the rest would be easy. Agreeing to share power is one thing – doing it is another. Increasingly, it seems that you can elect politicians to the executive but you can’t make them share power.

As for the consequences of any future collapse, paradoxically, McGurk reckons that will be more of a problem for a relatively united nationalist community than a split unionist one:

However, were the Assembly and power-sharing to collapse, Sinn Fein might be more concerned than the DUP. Now that the smoke has cleared and the Troubles are over, for many unionists a peaceful North with direct rule may even be preferable to a devolved government involving their political enemies.

By contrast for Sinn Fein, any collapse would be catastrophic. Power-sharing at Stormont was originally sold as an engine towards Irish unity. For many in the Republican movement, direct rule minus the North-South institutions – such as they are – would be difficult to accept. Meanwhile, emerging like defiant Japanese soldiers from the jungle of some Pacific island, come the Continuity IRA.

The war is over. Nobody wants them, nobody supports them, but that has never deterred paramilitaries.

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