Confused? You will be. Yesterday’s debate about an agreement that was never reached ended in a narrow vote against Haass. Two odd things about that vote. One, the leaders of the two major parties were still to have their post Haass talks. Two, a vote against would not have amounted in any concrete statutory terms to a hill of beans.
Why? Because pretty much all decisions have to be agreed by the tribal chiefs (or tribunes as they have been referred to in the past) in OFMdFM before they can be actioned.
The Assembly has oversight responsibilities in committee, but the Assembly in plenary cannot overturn anything that is not agreed to by the DUP, or by Sinn Fein if they can squeeze one more seat in the next Assembly election.
This is the very real headlock both Castle parties have the other three in. And, short of a radical change in electoral fortunes, that is not going to change anytime soon. Their inability to agree over Haass is merely another reflection of their broad inability to agree anything of political import over the last six years.
That serial missing of minds derives on one hand from a deeply cautious pitch for government by the DUP which effectively precludes joint action on anything likely to cause controversy within their own narrow base, and at times a wildly extravert pitch from Sinn Fein largely on issues for their own similarly base and will create difficulties for their opponents.
The result is that the so-called moderate parties are being drawn to act or respond to issues and narratives which have limited or no traction to their own middle class bases. The one exception being East Belfast where it is clearly in Naomi Long’s interest to pick a direct fight with Peter Robinson over the flags controversy.
Her party leader spoke more directly and sceptically to the centre of the mission, when he said he hoped that when the party leaders met (after the Assembly vote) they should show “genuine ambition and not just the illusion of activity”. [Good luck with that David! Tell us how it goes? – Ed]
The pitch and toss of the political ship over Haass is a struggle between two parties gain the upper hand in the public space. Since the proposal offers unionism nothing on flags or parading, but Sinn Fein a summary and public execution of the HET, Martin loves it, and is telling the world that the DUP should do precisely what Dr Haass once pleaded dFM’s party should be allowed not to do, and have the FM split his own base.
In all likelihood Peter will seek to ‘love’ it out of existence (as a functional programme) by talking it into yet another abstract cloud above the fine Scottish baronial towers of Stormont Castle. Some elements may make it into existence, but given the little these two have managed to agree on, do not hold your breath on that. It could be detrimental to your health.
Meanwhile both David Cameron and the US Vice President spoke directly to one senior party political leader presumably to share with him their considered view of what he should do, although thus far that much has only made clear by UTV:
Another attempt to take Stormont’s bastion of consociationalism by stealth looks likely to fail. Ha, unionism. It hasn’t gone away you know?
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