One difficulty with political negotiations in Northern Ireland is the need to negotiate in multiple planes.
Firstly there has to be give and take between the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Then while delicately balancing this agreed framework, equilibrium has to be maintained while the three smaller parties – SDLP, UUP and Alliance – are given their opportunity to shake the scaffolding and bolt on some of their own tweaks and issues.
After the DUP and Sinn Féin had reached an initial agreement, the Haass talks seemed to fall apart when the smaller parties started to adjust the carefully crafted compromise.
The Stormont House Agreement made it through, but resulted in financial issues cobbled together with structural issues (which while not cash neutral were not key to agreeing a balanced budget).
The result is that Welfare Reform has kyboshed a much larger set of changes.
There’s no real-world logical reason not to go ahead with many of the other issues. Agreed standalone improvements can only be ‘bad’ if they are delayed?
However there seems no political possibility that the other non-financial issues can be enacted given the political capital – however small that may be – tied up in each of them.
- Opposition arrangements and support to be put in place by the Assembly by March 2015 … though John McCallister and others may argue that his Private Members Bill will cause a debate around a more fulsome version of the minimal changes the Executive might have agreed to propose.
- The establishment of a Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition by June 2015.
- Legislative proposals on parades and related protests brought forward by OFMdFM to the Executive by June 2015 … something that the Orange Order might want to lobby unionist parties in the Executive for instead of focussing their ire on the current Parades Commission.
- The establishment of a compact civic advisory panel by June 2015 to meet regularly and consider key social, cultural and economic issues, and to advise the NI Executive.
None of these issues rely on Welfare Reform, the devolution of Corporation Tax, funding for Civil Service voluntary leaver packages or even a budget.
None of these initiatives would offer instant First Aid to the bleeding issues of Northern Ireland.
However they would show signs of a more subtle political leadership that doesn’t resort to the handbrake every time the speed of the car needs to be corrected.