So, here. With a few notable exceptions, many commentators seem to be struggling with the particulars of the current crisis… For all the inattention of the London Press, the problem hasn’t eluded the Times of London, whose leader today is pretty unambiguous.
In the Guardian Mary Dejevsky’s analysis appears to miss some of the more granular political detailing, describing “politics in Northern Ireland as singularly resistant to the ambiguity that oils the wheels of diplomacy”.
Her colleague the media critic Roy Greenslade points the finger directly at the Chief Constable for introducing a conversation that has made everyone at Stormont uncomfortable (not least because of the carnage in jobs that’s likely to follow any indefinite suspension).
Interesting, not least because it puts the blame on the agency which let the rabbit out of the hat first rather than those involved directly or indirectly with the killing.
However, as Pete has been repeatedly trailing the journalists rather than the commentators are the ones who have been flagging the real source of the current disquiet in a Stormont which has accepted killings and the organised cover up of child rape for the sake of peace and stability.
In this context here’s a reminder of Pete’s acute observation that…
It’s not the still-extant Provisional IRA structures that are the immediate cause for concern, although “stupid” questions could, and should, be asked about their ultimate purpose, it’s the involvement of those Provisional IRA ‘structures’ in the events leading up to, and including, the murder of Kevin McGuigan, and the continued denials[of that reality! – Ed] which have followed.
This is crucial since the fortunes and relative positions of the unionist parties (who still represent the majority opinion in Northern Ireland) will swing on such realpolitik… Tom Kelly is one of the few commentators on the nationalist side to demonstrate an appreciation of the precise cadences within the current powerplay:
The DUP are like rabbits stunned by the headlights of the Ulster Unionist robin reliant. It’s clear by the mixture of anger and speechlessness from their representatives that they have been wrong footed.
They had banked on the UUP tailing behind in their shadow at least until the Assembly elections. Whilst they talk big about leadership the reality is they needed UUP cover. It has taken the UUP a long time to realise that too. But the next move belongs to the DUP.
Nesbitt has proven that what he lacks in political dexterity he has made up for in guile. Timing is everything in politics and time after time both the DUP and Sinn Féin have milked every crisis or pressure point to the limit even paralysing two sovereign Governments into believing that there could be no progress without them.
Successive governments became poodles to their baying hyenas. The governments were happy to leave the carcasses of the SDLP and the UUP to both the predators and scavengers.
Seamus Mallon, the SDLP deputy leader and former deputy First Minister, understood the benefits of using resignation as a power play.
His political successors have never shown the same instinctive nous or bottle. Unfortunately whatever the SDLP chooses to do now is more or less irrelevant as the UUP has stolen the initiative.
Brian Feeney today seems to think Peter Robinson will produce a master plan for Assembly survival:
Robinson’s plan is to lob the ball into Sinn Féin’s court. They’ll have to make concessions because while Robinson doesn’t want to leave the executive Sinn Féin equally don’t want the edifice to crumble.
So they can’t make it difficult for Robinson to hang in given that most of his MPs oppose power-sharing and his assembly members know Robinson doesn’t want an election soon because he doesn’t intend to stand again.
Ending his political career after losing his Westminster seat and with the executive and assembly a shambles would too obviously fulfil the famous Enoch Powell dictum that all political careers end in failure.
Watch next week as Robinson, justifiably furious with Nesbitt, produces with the help to the two governments (and Sinn Féin) a coherent plan to save devolution, earn the praise of the media, and demonstrate conclusively that the UUP leader is a political novice.
Sinn Fein, whose actions (or inactions) triggered this crisis (but who have barely featured in most of the political debate which has followed), probably can give Robinson what he (and they) need. But only by trashing the positions they’ve held in the last 18 months, and perhaps more.
The drain of talent to the south (and out of the party) means the northern party has none of the sparkle of the early naughties. The low vaudeville of the Westminster campaign shows a party bumbling along, and even losing a council seat (and talent) to the Alliance party.
Robinson and Sinn Fein have some time to resolve these matters. Standing Orders give Nesbitt seven days to replace Danny Kennedy. After that the position must be filled by re-running d’Hondt. But luckily for the OFMdFM partners there’s no time limit on that.
However the fiscal clock is running out on setting a budget.
It remains to be seen whether Feeney is right and a deal can be done between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It will have to be loaded heavily for the DUP if Robinson is to avoid being caned for the sake of another post dated promise as Trimble was before him.
The price for Sinn Fein is less tangible in Northern Ireland, but should Stormont collapse the “vote for us and we’ll pull the place down” strapline is not the greatest platform for their first big push into government responsibility in the Republic.
And if it falls, the poor leadership jointly shown by Sinn Fein and the DUP have brought it into such abject disrepute (as low as a 9% favorability rating) that it’s very hard to see where the impetus comes from to bring it back again.
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