So Northern Ireland’s missing democracy disappeared a year ago. So says the Economist. And it notes that this…
…is partly because the negotiations have been punctuated by bouts of electoral combat. Elections to the suspended Assembly last March produced a surge in support for Sinn Fein. The general election in June saw the DUP stage a recovery, increasing its tally of MPs to ten.
This proved crucial when Theresa May fell short of a majority and persuaded the DUP to prop up her government, in return for £1bn ($1.4bn) in new funding for the province, or more than £500 per person.
Republicans believe that the British government’s dependence on the DUP for its survival has undermined its role as an impartial broker in the talks.
The other aggravating factor is Brexit. Most republicans oppose it, since it would weaken ties with the Republic of Ireland. Most unionists support it, for exactly the same reason.
I spent some of yesterday in and around Leinster House in Dublin taking soundings from various TDs and backroom operators and I got the impression that the high level of anxiety of the last few years has substantially subsided.
There’s a general sense that endless speculation over what Brexit might look like is not as important as finding the right response to the precise shape of the final deal. Whatever it is.
The Phoenix (VOL 36, No 1) saved itself the bother of offering any serious analysis by putting this paean to bad bread-themed jokes on the front page…
According to its state of the nation analysis, Northern Ireland’s democracy has fallen foul of the DUP’s ‘sheer rudeness, boorishness and discourtesy’ towards the Republic’s minister for Foreign Affairs and points out that Arlene won’t talk to him about anything related to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. As per the Good Friday Agreement, which set up mechanism’s to deal with such matters.
In the Irish Times Denis Bradley is a great deal more direct than Paddy’s northern stringer:
Sinn Féin has never been so nervous and unsure of itself as during the last few months. The party is nervous about going into government with the DUP and nervous about staying out of government. Some people, when they get to a certain stage of nervousness, want to incessantly talk about the problems they are facing. I have seen people in such a state stopping near-strangers in the street to tell them their worries.
Sinn Féin has phoned thousands of people, inviting them to public meetings throughout the North, to explain its dilemma and ask for advice on what it should do. In a way, it is very impressive. Especially because those who are invited come from the broad nationalist constituency and not only from the ranks of the party.
A great deal of the nervousness is put down to the death of Martin McGuinness. Party members, commentators and most especially unionists think Sinn Féin is very lost since McGuinness died. There is some truth in that. McGuinness had the gift of the dramatic moment, arising from his ability to understand and articulate the emotional mood not just of his own party but of the nationalist constituency. That is a gift not easily replaced and its loss would unsettle any party. But if the truth be told, the nervousness goes beyond the loss of McGuinness. It goes deep into the psyche of Sinn Féin.
And on the problem of the poor manners of some DUP MLA’s, he observes:
Even within the narrow perspective of manners and respect the lack of pragmatism and prioritisation is glaring. Where is the wit to know that every time a Gregory Campbell says there will be no Acht na Gaeilge an extra 100 people join an Irish language class? Where is the political pragmatism that knows the last time there was a vote in the Stormont Assembly the greater number voted for the introduction of same-sex marriage.
Where is the pride that believes Sinn Féin can be as good if not better than the DUP at the art of politics? Where is the honesty to admit that Sinn Féin is terrified that it will lose a few votes if it is seen to soften its stance and negotiate its way back into government? Where is the statesmanship to know that this is a time for generosity and flexibility? Where is the sense of priorities to know that the awkward, stubborn and fearful unionist people are key to the debate and to the settlement of an agreed Ireland?
All good questions, and aimed in the right direction: ie, at the party which actually precipitated the breakdown.
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