Good to see Newton Emerson back in his post at the Irish Times again. This week he’s turned his fire on Micheal Martin for the cardinal post-Blairite sin of post-modern triangulation (which I don’t quite believe), but here he makes a very strong point:
Martin’s statesmanlike stance above party interests kept him aloof from any dispute about welfare itself, which was most fortuitous.Yet as the crisis limped on from one all-encompassing set of talks to another, the timeless warning that London and Dublin needed to sort Stormont out began to look a little dated.
It became apparent London was disengaging as an active, positive policy, to force an indigenous deal it felt would be more likely to stick. Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers was specific about this, in word and patient non-deed, while David Cameron referred all demands for “crisis summits” back to a blasé Villiers. At the same time, Stormont parties had top-level access to British treasury and welfare ministers whenever they wanted to discuss practical solutions.
People in Northern Ireland began to enjoy the strangulated spectacle of their elected representatives realising they would have to sort out their own arguments. Some people even began to believe it might work, or at least that it was the only thing that ever had a chance of working. [Emphasis added]
This goes hand in hand with David’s point about Martin McGuinness appeared to back up the Fresh Start agreement as some kind of new arc of the covenant for a future Programme for Government. [Has anyone asked Jim McVeigh? – Ed]
Newton goes on…
No doubt his [Martin’s] concerns are sincerely held but they triangulate his party nicely between the crisis he predicted and the solution that came to pass. The “stranglehold” at Stormont arises from “Fresh Start”, the deal London and Dublin stood back from to let the Northern parties figure it out for themselves.
If the stranglehold is the thing, then it far pre-dates Fresh Start and until now has been far more in evidence as a break on change than anything more pro-active than that. In part – as I argued briefly in Tuesday’s Slugger Report – it’s a constitutional matter.
It may be that a two party stitch up is better than five party fudge, but whilst a major political change at OFMdFM might signal a shift in manner or policies, the stranglehold would endure even in the face of a passive aggressive ‘Opposition’ without teeth.
Any real change in political business requires real Track One change at Stormont. Since Martin has pledged a direct entry into NI politics in 2019, he’d certainly be wise not to discount a renewal of SF’s commitments to making the institutions work.
But he would also be foolish to assume that Fresh Start will – over time – prove to be anything like what it says it is on the tin.