One of the effects of the poor networking of knowledge we’re getting at the moment is easily seen in the poor conceptual grasp, first of all, Sinn Fein and latterly Fine Gael, has on the institutional architecture.
No matter how many times they repeat it, the BIIC cannot replace Stormont. Newton puts them straight…
Last November, when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar first proposed reconvening the conference to address the Stormont crisis, he got this crucial detail wrong, telling the Dáil: “If nothing is devolved, then everything is devolved to the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.”
The following month he corrected himself but by then the damage had been done, with Northern nationalists and unionists both believing a new form of joint authority had been demanded, and over-reacting in predictably opposite directions.
Since then everyone has climbed down off the ceiling, on this particular issue at least, to the point where last week Varadkar offered unionists an olive branch.
He goes on…
Keeping Dublin detached from strand one was unionism’s main goal and achievement in negotiating the Belfast Agreement. It is sacrosanct to the DUP, hence Foster’s indignation despite praising the rest of Varadkar’s Washington speech. The DUP leader would rather not be at loggerheads with the Irish Government.
The Taoiseach may have thought he was telling unionists not to worry about last year’s “joint authority” scare, but what unionists heard was another casual breaching of the bulwarks. The Taoiseach should have said: “How we assist talks through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference is important.”
The lesson from Foster’s reaction has clearly not been learned. Filling in for the Taoiseach this Tuesday at leader’s questions, Tánaiste Simon Coveney told the Dáil he has asked Northern Secretary Karen Bradley to “consider an Intergovernmental Conference”.
“I felt it would be appropriate at this stage to have that structure enacted so both governments could formally discuss the various options they need to consider around a budget for Northern Ireland, how we take our next steps getting a devolved government back up and running in Northern Ireland and other practical issues that can and should be raised on an east-west basis,” Coveney said.
As I’ve said elsewhere on Slugger, in an age of abundance, ignorance multiplies exponentially amongst the elite as much as the great unwashed. Newton quotes the Irish Foreign Minister stepping way outside his constitutional role as co-guarantor:
“I felt it would be appropriate at this stage to have that structure enacted so both governments could formally discuss the various options they need to consider around a budget for Northern Ireland.”
So what’s eating the normally convivial and measured Mr Coveney? A quick look at last week’s poll perhaps gives the domestic concerns of his and FG’s game away…
In not quite shaking Fianna Fail off, perhaps the late (and unwonted) closeness between FG and SF on north south and east west rhetoric is about framing things for a post-election horse trade that SF (unlike last time) has sworn to participate in?
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