“We have to close that vacuum..”

The BBC reports Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodward’s comments after meeting the Irish foreign minister, Michael Martin, in Dublin

[Shaun Woodward] said: “It’s a very important time for all unionists to realise that now is the time to complete devolution. “There is an urgency which is why this needs to be addressed in these coming days and weeks.” Mr Woodward said dissident republicans who attacked a police officer last week were exploiting the “vacuum” in the process.

“Very clearly what happened to the police officer cannot be allowed to continue and I think we all have to pay attention to the vacuum which inevitably exists while these people still disagree about this work. “We have to close that vacuum and the best way to do that is to do all we can to get the parties to reach agreement.”

The only potential “vacuum” exists if Sinn Féin takes the political ball from the pitch by collapsing the NI Assembly. If that’s what they’re prepared to do. Last time I looked it was still there. We know why they’re threatening to do that. And they’ve been talking themselves into that corner for some time. Some clarity on the latest Sinn Féin crisis here. Shaun Woodward’s right, though, that any subsequent “vacuum” risks emboldening still-violent republican paramilitaries – but devolving policing and justice powers isn’t going to discourage them. After all, they’re only “[keeping] faith with the republican past…” Adds Of course, the UK and Irish governments won’t be setting any “artificial deadlines”. That would be “banal and silly”.