Another bout of the Blame Game (unlike the Tim McGarry TV version, it’s not funny and is unworthy of so many repeats), and it falls to my old mucker Quintin Oliver to do the decent thing and praise the current secretary of state [dirty work, but someone’s got to do it! – Ed].
…he has achieved many of the objectives one imagines The Prime Minister, Theresa May, set him, assuming sealing a deal wasn’t attainable:
Keep Northern Ireland off No 10’s plate, for as long as possible;
Keep the various bull-headed factions talking as long as you can;
Keep violence off the streets, disrupt paramilitaries, maintain law and order;
Keep the Irish engaged – and ‘be nice’ on Brexit;
Boost tourism, grow the economy, encourage investment.
Furthermore, he has overseen the Rates Order and the financial Monitoring Round, turned a blind eye on MLA pay (thereby protecting the political class from implosion) and tolerated – maybe urged – Permanent Secretary ultra vires risky decision-making.
If he can trump this nine-month feat with a non-direct rule, direct rule-lite arrangement, then might we praise him, before burying him again in well-deserved obscurity after the Irish election and after Brexit, if that’s what it will take?
Yep. It’s a [very] limited game he’s playing, but given the serious lack of local political will (where it actually matters), there’s really nothing else he can do. And if Stephen Pound’s interview on Inside Politics is anything to go by, the UK Labour Party has his back.
If we can deduce anything from his glide path analogies, it is sure that so long as nothing else untoward happens, the “sos cogaidh” between Sinn Fein and the DUP will continue as long as they need it to go on.
As Newton Emerson pointed out on The View, they probably need it to continue beyond the DUP conference and SF’s Ard Fheis next month, and even longer so long as the general plausibility can be sustained.
Fionnuala O’Connor once memorably called negotiations back in the early naughties, a high wire act where the wire was a mere three feet above the ground. There’s barely a pretence this ultra-low wire stuff is difficult.
in the meantime, the SOS is giving the two main parties [Sing Hallelujah One More Time! – Ed] exactly what they want, and as Quintin says, what his boss wants, which is the minimum of mess spilling over onto her busy table.
He’s helping SF to countdown its clock [along with a protracted stooping down low and creeping out of sight? – Ed] until all difficult things (like the next southern election and Brexit) shall pass, although inevitably getting very little thanks for it.
So it fell to Fianna Fail’s Foreign Affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien to defend the Irish interest on The View last Thursday and counsel for a softer departure for the UK in order to keep the deep economic links between the two jurisdictions healthy.
Brokenshire’s glide path is the best we’re getting. Meanwhile, MLAs keep their pay, their staff, their offices and the DUP quietly gets to kill off the previous government’s plan to abolish two of NI’s Westminster seats (a bonus on top of Brexit, so long as liberal Tory nerves hold).
In the short to medium term, this is the DUP’s game to control. They’ve come on board with a programmatic Culture Act with provisions for Irish Language and other cultures. SF’s determination to can-kick just gives them more time to bed that in.
As for SF, when the smoke clears, unless they do extraordinarily well in the southern election, there’s nowhere else for them to go but home to Stormont (note how strident John O’Dowd is in resisting reforms to the present arrangements).
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