Is the arrival of Cameron and Kenny more than part of a tired old ritual?

 The credibility and effectiveness of the devolved institutions is on the line, writes  David Cameron.

Sinn Féin MP Conor Murphy  warned if a deal isn’t done then the Northern Executive will “crash”.

“The implications are that the Executive can’t continue to function. You go into a crash and you go back to an election and let the public decide how the issues are resolved, Peter Robinson said last week.

SDLP negotiator Alban Maginness, reflecting some expectations of a limited deal, said that “partial” agreement would not be acceptable.

If bottom line rhetoric was the measure of success, we would be in nirvana long ago. It would be far more encouraging if there were a few meaty leaks about progress on any theme other than more rattling of the begging bowl. Some of the argument is circular. More powers will come if they are able to exercise the ones they’ve got. The mood music may be cautiously optimistic but what is there to back it up?

Politicians and the media seem to be sleep walking through old rituals.  The Americans can spare a retired semi-disgraced  presidential runner to chair talks. Do you really  think they care?   The prime ministers turn up in a faInt echo of the GFA, feeling  they have to be seen to try something for a whole 12 hours. How much clout has Enda Kenny who as taoiseach is the traditional guarantor of the nationalist interest, when he not David Cameron is Sinn Fein’s bitterest political opponent?

What are the parties’ hope of leverage in a situation of unprecedented uncertainty after the UK election in May? Are Sinn Fein being at last tempted  to take their seats at Westminster  to join the SNP  in  leverage with a  Labour government?  What would the DUP want it order to support the Conservatives?  The time for bargaining has not been reached and the prospects of significant influence and delivery are in any case slight given the present state of political fragmentation in England. There are too few NI seats are to make the crucial difference.

At this latest crossroads two things seem obvious.  Agreement on such a sweeping agenda would be tantamount to an end to sectarian politics and is either absurdly over ambitious or risks being so vague as to be virtually meaningless in practice. The urgent matters are ending the budget deadlock and closing down Camp Twaddell. Yet more unionist splits over parades are hardly encouraging .

On dealing with the past , information on a new police unit to replace the Historical Enquiries Team is sketchy.  Their opening tasks to examine OTRs and Bloody Sunday, are basically politically reactive and a waste of energy. There is no sign of treating victims purely on the basis of need or helping them reach closure on the basis of existing usually sketchy evidence. Nor does it seem likely that the British government wishes to throw open its archives further or that paramilitaries will end omerta.

So what are we left with? We’ll discover before the weekend.

 

 

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