I first heard the word optics in the run up to the Belfast Agreement. It means stuff that/s not real but looks good to the punters. Blair was a past master at it. Putting a banner up above the smiling faces at St Andrews which read “St Andrews Agreement” was sheer genius. In what came next he managed to ‘rough’ Sinn Fein over the end line.
The fig leaf of the provisional timetable was spun as a hard deadline by Sinn Fein to the mass media, and its own members. The binding terms of its agreement with its own 2007 Ard Fheis meant it has been on effective strike ever since May last year. Now, we more optics from the British in which they now say confidence cannot be had until devolution is complete, and not as states. And that big wad of cash may be taken off the table if the deal is not done in months:
“The financial package will only be available if devolution is completed in the coming months. Maintaining this progress and the early completion of devolution are important to sustaining public confidence across the whole community and to further enhancing Northern Ireland’s international reputation.”
In other words, it’s the old switcheroo from the St Andrews Agreement itself from Brown, which clearly states community confidence is a precondition, and not the other way around:
It is our view that implementation of the agreement published today should be sufficient to build the community confidence necessary for the Assembly to request the devolution of criminal justice and policing from the British Government by May 2008.
This ‘sham fight’ just got a wee bit more interesting… Of course, all things are possible (even the worse ones) if there is sufficient political will to make them happen… We await to see if Mr Brown’s got the political nerve to rip up his own government’s binding agreement…
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