It’s tough going trying to evidence of life in the Northern Irish political beast these days. Holyrood, Westminster and the Oireachtas, hell, even the electoral race for Aras an Uachtaran, all provide infinitely more competition and challenge.
Stormont, by contrast, is stuck with the tedium of a very long and uneventful now… (and good thing too, I hear some small still voice at the back mutter to itself)… Malachi O’Doherty throws some light on how things became so politically soporific:
…the lesson republicans learned in time is that you can do an awful lot at the table.
They knew that even in 1972, when they played a sophisticated game against the Secretary of State, William Whitelaw and his emissary Philip Woodfield, outflanking them on several points in the preparations for a ceasefire – essentially asserting the right to bear arms and patrol the streets, never formally conceded, of course, and doing much more to prove to the British that they would not be a pushover.
Woodfield went away from the preparatory talks with Gerry Adams, remarking on what a reasonable chap he was and what a pity it was that he hadn’t gone to university. When he saw the outworking of the ceasefire and its collapse he must have understood more clearly that he had been dealing with a young man who would smile at him and then shaft him every way he could.
So when Adams goes to the Basque country to facilitate peace-making, he goes as a seasoned peace-processor who understands that talks aren’t the means for ending conflict, but the alternative means for pressing your advantage.
That is how the peace process was managed in Northern Ireland – not as a negotiation towards a new dispensation that would commence when the talks ended, but as an alternative political framework in itself.
As a minor footnote to that thought, 47 minutes into Late Debate last night, it’s worth listening to a very adept (and largely successful) Mary Lou McDonald TD and her handling of the accusation that Sinn Fein could be seen as part of a political establishment, implicated as it is in administering £4 Billion of cuts in Northern Ireland.
Her case is was simple. “The process” is incomplete, and whilst the party does not have the fiscal power to significantly restructure the block grant they get from Whitehall, they are not blame for any of the negative outcomes arising from Stormont’s choice of cuts (no matter that the party voted of the budget).
It’s not clear whether this is clever strategy, or making the best of a poor job. But in return for peace, we have been gifted a solid state, highly internalised political process. And one subject to periodic approval by referenda, which shows little sign of ending any time soon.
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