Yelps of alarm are appearing in the papers as the political talks are poised to enter a third week without signs of resolution. Depression seems to be the order the day. Theresa Villiers reports a big gap remaining between the parties . Jim Downey in the Indo depicts a chronic low intensity crisis which the Republic has ignored and over which it has little leverage
More or less quiet”? If you look closely, you can see that the place isn’t quiet at all.
The Mairia Cahill affair woke us up for a while because of her abominable treatment by Sinn Féin and because it revealed the way in which that party rules the Catholic population. It was followed by two IRA-linked murders on the streets of Belfast. The Chief Constable of the PSNI says that the IRA still exists, presumably complete with a dominant “army council.
Denis Bradley is not far behind, He calls on the two governments to take a bolder lead. Indeed they they should never have relaxed their grip but what can they actually offer now? The British government can’t offer loadsamoney to bribe Sinn Fein when they are fixed on denying it elsewhere in what has become a Great Britain in political flux.
The Newsletter resurrects the familiar unionist cry of one sided justice in dealing with the past. It’s as if they believe the IRA got off scot-free To balance this out some smart lawyers might present an audit of prison sentences served .
In 1998 and again in 2006-7 the agendas were clear enough; end the violence permanently and stabilise power sharing. New situations created vetoes which are now proving hard to overcome. Peace has reduced the amount of leverage all round. The Provos can’t hint at a return to war and the British government cannot afford to offer heavy bribes, even if they wanted to, as they are stuck with new instabilities in GB. As far as I can see, the unionist parties are in a new phase of internal competition to the exclusion of everything else and have less influence over the paramilitary residues than ever.
Rather than chuntering on with whataboutery, the Stormont House draft Bill at least provides a framework for the talks, But this offers little or no momentum or new incentives beyond last year’s offer which Sinn Fein rejected.
There is no serious doubt about Sinn Fein’s commitment to the peace process, ( their version). At the same time the requirements for reconciliation often clash, when seen through very different communal lenses Judging by voter turnout, the parties’ appetite for political conflict is not matched by the public’s. But coalition dominated by the opposite poles of the populist DUP and revolutionary Sinn Fein since 2007 was never likely to be straightforward.
The government’s insistence on linking the funding for a revived agreement to acceptance of the welfare cuts looks problematical. The timing may therefore be against early resolution. The Conservative government may yet have to legislate to take welfare powers back temporarily to impose the cuts, while Stormont bridges the funding gap out of its own resources. In the longer run though, it would be a sign of growing maturity after the May elections if a reconvened Executive were to grasp the nettle of raising more of its own revenue by increasing domestic rates and phasing in water charges.
The indefinite suspension of Stormont remains possible. But solutions are available if the parties adopt them and the two governments monitor progress more consistently than they have done since 2010.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”,
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