Interesting figures in the latest poll on policing and justice. If you total up all the figures, it’s a grand 81% in favour. Yay! However, if you break that down between those who want the decision time bound (ie, 25% immediately and 14% before general election) 39% (in legal terms this is a meaningless option without the agreement deemed necessary under St Andrews) and those who want to see it as a result of agreement between the parties, 42%, you begin appreciate the fork in the road the two parties in Stormont Castle have brought us to. And, unsurprisingly, a sizeable proportion of Catholics are feeling pretty reckless over the issue:
The threat of the collapse of the current Assembly over this issue elicited markedly differing views from the majority of Protestant and Catholic respondents 63% of people surveyed said that the timing of the devolution of powers should not warrant the collapse of the institutions, 83% of the Protestants polled and 38% of Catholics. Of the 27% who believe that a failure to resolve the current row should result in the collapse of the Assembly, this figure is made up of only 5% of the Protestants polled but 54% of Catholics.
It’s unsurprising in the sense that it’s probably a fair reflection of Sinn Fein’s support in the population at large (ie 27% of the whole population, whilst Bairbre de Brun pulled 26% in June’s Euro election).
So we can reasonably surmise that of that sector of the Catholic community which backs the SF party line, is prepared to see the indigenous deal that Gerry Adams once warned us not to interfere with go west in the event there is a failure to get agreement on a new deal.
So although 37% of Protestants say they still lack confidence, more than 80% say it is not worth the collapse of Stormont. So despite the talk of growing cynicism within that community towards Stormont, it is the unionist population which seems more sanguine about retaining the Assembly and Executive, albeit at some limited cost.
Sinn Fein will likely take heart from this. They have their people lined up behind them, and the sentiment within unionism appears broadly that P&J is not worth the
However they are still stuck with two big headaches: how they manage the break down of the game with an opponent who appears keen to keep the ball in play; and, perhaps more importantly, how they deal with the aftermath in which they are likely to have to deal with a tougher unionist response to what amounts to a severe breach of various promises in early 2007. Spinning it out for a few years until people forget the original settlement is not a great solution when you’ve not got much else going for you on your other strategic fronts…
Whether it is a breakdown to negotiations, or a breakdown to an election, negotiations will be unavoidable. The party’s consistent messaging on this (along with an unwillingness of the MSM to call it as it really is) has clearly prepared their support for a moment of departure. It seems unlikely though that they have prepared that same support for the kind of deal that protracted negotiation is likely to bring them.
Given 81% of the population agree on the desired outcome (as opposed to the means by which it may be had) it would also be a grand denial of the art of the possible…
This is a game of diminishing returns for both protagonists… They’d be better doing a functional deal and taking it to their respective homes soonest… Just don’t hold yer breath. There is a lot more spin and playing of the MSM optics yet to come I fear…
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