It’s hard to find a considered analysis that doesn’t contain some class of axe grinding. Martin Mansergh as a former FF TD and Senator is hardly free of such possible accusations, but he makes more effort than most to cut to the heart of the problem:
Half a year has gone by since the Executive collapsed, with lingering hopes but no certainty that it will be restored in a calmer autumn atmosphere.
The parties are not constrained by toothless government deadlines, given the absence of credible sanctions.
To everyone’s relief, the DUP and Sinn Féin can at least agree that MLAs’ salaries should continue to be paid, pending a functioning Assembly.
He provides some useful political context for the two main players:
The wider context is important for both Sinn Féin and the DUP, and offers both risks and opportunities.
It can be a double-edged sword to be an all-Ireland party operating in different roles in different jurisdictions, where apparently inconsistent positions can be compared by political rivals.
Presumably, the extra money negotiated by the DUP will temporarily insulate Northern Ireland from some of the austerity facing the UK, as the early effects of the Brexit decision begin to bite.
Whenever an election is called in the Republic, Sinn Féin might have difficulty explaining why it should be in government in Dublin, if it were still refusing to be in government in Belfast.
Any party in the DUP’s position after the Westminster election, holding the balance of power, would have used it to extract as much advantage for Northern Ireland as reasonably possible. The party quite properly refused to be taken for granted by the Tories.
Of course, there are also risks attached to its situation. Now that the DUP has become a key factor in British domestic politics, on which the very life of a vulnerable government depends, it is under the British media and political spotlight as never before.
Caricatured as antediluvian, it can expect ongoing criticism and attack, ostensibly based on high-minded concern for the peace, welfare and denied rights of Northern Ireland, from opponents and critics of the British government.
The question arising is “will their hardening of positions prevent compromise being made”? And what of the most critical issue facing Brexit? Almost everyone involved in the problem of the common border wants flexible solutions
As Mansergh notes:
Brexit, it is agreed, needs practical solutions that will minimise interference with cross-Border trade and movement.
As negotiations proceed, it is important that the political voice of Northern Ireland is heard, speaking with authority as a devolved government that is the product of a functioning peace process.
Those who imagine that there is constitutional advantage to be gained from Brexit should not be tempted up a cul de sac.
There will be neither a shift of opinion towards a united Ireland within the EU among unionists enough to justify a Border poll, nor a shift of opinion in the Republic towards an Irexit and back towards the UK.
And what of the advancing possibility of a united Ireland. Mansergh usefully names some obstacles many northern commentators have been slow to acknowledge:
A political competition as to which nationalist party north or south is the most zealous promoter of a united Ireland can do little to advance actual achievement of that objective, and we have been around that circuit many times before.
Finding the necessary adaptations to protect the real gains in relations and the free movement of the past 20 years is the only challenge.
Without belittling any of them, it has to be questioned whether the issues put forward as reasons for not entering an Executive outweigh bigger interests of the people living in Northern Ireland.
The more symbolic an issue is, the more likely it is to raise a head of steam.
The trumpets of equality are not going to bring down the walls of Jericho. To expect that every point of disagreement or contention has to be resolved before going back into government is unrealistic. [Emphasis added]
Although perhaps a different walled city, and a horse of an entirely different colour, to the one Gerry had in mind.
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