Over the past week, Sinn Féin was, according to those with knowledge of the talks, ready to deal but was not met with equal enthusiasm from Arlene Foster and the DUP, which is understood to be looking for commitments that the Executive and Assembly cannot be easily collapsed.
This is not an inconsequential holdout position. Of course, it was relatively easy for SF to collapse the Assembly by refusing to re-nominate, but it was something the clever clogs at St Andrews clearly did not anticipate.
If they’ve done it once, apparently without political impairment, why would they not do it again? And if they can do it again, why put such unstable institutions back up without looking at how it might be repaired?
Malachi O’Dohery’s gone back to the dusty shelf and brought down something that might possibly fit better now than the last time it was looked at:
…in our exasperation with trying to find a heartbeat in a recumbent horse, we might be overlooking another important change that has occurred in that same time period.
And it is this: the old structure of Northern Ireland, which inspired power-sharing in the first place, has changed. There is no longer a majority unionist community and a minority nationalist one. Both are minorities.
The prospect of a resumption of the 50 years of misrule is gone. So, why do we need power-sharing?
That’s really not a bad question to ask at this point, even if most of the answers to are likely to be a reflexive NO! And this is why..
If we scrapped power-sharing, Sinn Fein would probably find itself in Opposition against the DUP, but perhaps not. And, even so, it would have a realistic prospect of power next time.
It could woo friends in the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance and form a coalition that would govern. The numbers are there. Of course, it would have to change.
In British politics there is an understanding that a party can only take power if it appeals to the middle ground; if it can sell its message to people who might otherwise vote against it. This is a moderating dynamic.
Tories may secretly dream of an American-style health service and directorships on retirement with insurance companies, but they cannot declare that to the electorate. They have to be nicer.
If we had a simple majority rule system, Sinn Fein would have to attract soft unionists; the DUP would have to attract soft nationalists.
We would have a dynamic that worked against sectarian factionalism. The dynamic of power-sharing, on the contrary, works to promote sectarianism.
He correctly understands what remains valuable of the Middle Ground in Northern Ireland. It’s not rocket science, but it certainly deserves a proper (and civil) hearing.