It’s the same Agreement, really

Life is binary and it can be mightily difficult to make it converge. Here I pick out comments below the fold about Sinn Fein after the Hillsborough Agreement. I could just as easily have selected DUP-centred references. I link to the full versions. From the horses’ mouth, the leaders speak out. Peter Robinson first, then Gerry Adams. Next, two authoritative commentators have very different takes on the same process, not contradictory exactly but asymetrical. If Henry Patterson and Brian Feeney select such different contexts and results from the same agreement no wonder the players found it so difficult to reach and probably will find it difficult to implement.

Peter Robinson writes
Devolution of policing and justice powers will occur on Unionist terms. There will be no Sinn Fein Justice Minister. Unionists have a veto on who will hold this post. The appointment of the judiciary will be free from political interference. No politician will have any role in the appointment of judges. This is a lie peddled by the TUV that has no basis in fact…. We have a manifesto commitment against the introduction of an Irish Language Act. This was due to be introduced by Direct Rule. There will be no Irish language Act. Yesterday was a good day for Unionism which will further cement Ulster’s place within the United Kingdom.

Gerry Adams writes
The agreement that has now been reached will not only see the transfer of powers on policing and justice in April, but also by the end of the year the transfer of responsibility from London to Belfast for dealing with the issue of parades. We have also agreed a process to progress the rights of Irish language speakers, clear the backlog of executive papers and decisions which are still pending, and advance the all-Ireland aspects of the St Andrews agreement.

Professor Henry Patterson
Sinn Fein’s project of using the structures and commitments of the Belfast Agreement as part of a transitional process to unity is in ruins and the party’s southern support base is shrinking. If ‘war-weariness’ helped create a basis for republicans settling for a partitionist fudge in 1998 Peter Robinson must hope that a similar ‘peace process’ politicking weariness and a desire for the stabilising banalities of a functioning Stormont to act as a protective buffer against the post-election onslaught of Treasury cuts will win out in the unionist electorate

Dr Brian Feeney
The Unionists could not understand why devolving these powers was so important to Sinn Fein. In 2007, the party had made the seismic move to recognise the new police service, the PSNI. That move was conditional on a Department of Justice for Northern Ireland being established. For Sinn Fein it was essential that it be seen to run all aspects of the state it had given its consent to for the first time. Policing and justice are such crucial aspects because Sinn Fein needed to fireproof itself against republican critics and armed dissidents who accuse it of administering British justice. After the Hillsborough Castle agreement, that accusation has no force.
There is suspicion that former IRA members have not changed enough to be trusted. To assuage such concerns, DUP leader Peter Robinson talked of a “clever device”, so far known only to him, to guarantee Sinn Fein fulfils its obligations.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London