“Just after 11pm on Thursday, April 18 the script was torn up by a senseless and heart-breaking murder…”

Irish Foreign Minister and Tanaiste Simon Coveney has an oped in the Independent today. In it he serves welcome notice to the parties of Northern that as far as he is concerned business as usual is over.

What this adds up to (despite some soft words in Sinn Féin’s direction) is that both the DFA and the NIO have moved from passive acceptance that that party would remain in control of the timetable for going back to work, to dictating that pace themselves:

Little more than a week ago the usual script had been written, and was widely accepted, for the weeks ahead.

Politicians in Westminster, Brussels, Dublin and Belfast were taking an Easter break in the assumption there could be no engagement while local and European election campaigns were being fought in Northern Ireland in May. The script said the parties were on the doorsteps and would inevitably maintain partisan politics until the elections had past.

Just after 11pm on Thursday, April 18 that script was torn up by the senseless and heart-breaking murder of a woman whose name we have all come to know, Lyra McKee, and whom through the outstanding tributes of her partner, family and friends we all wish we had known in life.

In the last week both governments have focused almost all of their pressure in that direction. Local opinion formers like Irish News editor Noel Doran speaking on Prime Time on Thursday are sceptical that anything will come of it before elections.

Indeed the scenario laid out by Noel held out any realistic hope for improvement given there could be up to three more resorts to polling after the two scheduled for May, including an Assembly and Westminster and a second Brexit poll.

Nothing (certainly not egregious egregious paramilitary breaches of democratic) creates a disturbance in the political equilibrium of Northern Ireland like elections/referendums. And yet what’s been revealed by the McKee murder has driven NI’s peace process into global disrepute.

The general scepticism is not justified by the likely results of the upcoming results of a public inquiry (if you talk to senior servants, none of them have a clue who the report to can be delivered to since the Finance Minister who commissioned it still refuses to return to his office).

More straightforwardly (and to the actual point) according to Eoghan Harris:

Sinn Féin is not free to restore Stormont and the Irish media is too invested in demonising the DUP to force a change on the shadowy figures in the Felon’s Club who decided in 2017 to wreck the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Sinn Féin is not free because twice in the last 12 months it looked as if Mary Lou McDonald had been humiliatingly pressured into reversing her own previous positions.

The Felons Club figures don’t want a deal: they want to pull the two governments into bullying the unionists. McDonald gave the game away last Friday when she built failure into the talks before the started.

“If it is a thing that these matters can’t be resolved through talks then clearly the intergovernmental conference and the two governments will have to intervene.”

He goes on to point out that that the demonisation of Arlene Foster in large swathes of the southern liberal press has distract most southern commentators from what he calls the “delinquencies” of Sinn Féin. Something which I may (or may not) come back under a separate post.

Whilst Lyra’s murder has renewed interest in kick starting Northern Irish democracy again, in the Irish Times Marisa McGlinchey is very clear that the vacuum itself was not a trigger never mind a cause of her murder:

The absence of a functioning Stormont government in Northern Ireland has contributed to polarisation and diminished community relations, but the actions of the New IRA are not a consequence of the political vacuum.

Nor is the escalation of activity by the New IRA a consequence of Brexit, as it made clear after a bombing attack in Derry in January, which could have killed and maimed.

If anything is contributory, it is the underbelly of the Peace Process™ ethic which permits paramilitaries to continue as community gatekeepers unchallenged (and unchallengeable) by mainstream political narrative. This has continued regardless of whether Stormont sits or not.

In his speech at Arbour Hill today Micheál Martin hightlighted the general lack of intensity there’s been on Northern Ireland and in particular the absence of any serious political challenge to those still committed to the coercive control model highlighted by Father McGill:

…who hide behind masks and act out a cartoon vision of republican activism. And yet they cause great harm. They intimidate people going about their daily lives. They murder the legitimate forces of law and order. They attack democratic institutions.

They brutalise and maim young people.  And as we saw so tragically on the streets of Derry on the eve of Good Friday 2019, to them a journalist serving the public interest is simply collateral damage.

We have to be resolute in fighting these groups. We must challenge them at every opportunity and hold them to account for their behaviour. [Emphasis added.]

In the Sunday Business Post, Tom McGurk sounds one of the few optimistic notes today in an oped entitled Lyra’s warrior women have the paramilitaries on the run. The Trouble is we have been here before.

As we saw in the case of the McCartney family when the press moves on the lads move back in and to twist the words of Yeats somewhat hatefully, revenge comes dropping slow. Expecting citizens to take paramilitary gatekeepers on without the backing to the state is at best naive.

And without democratic legitimacy conferred on the actions of the state by a sitting Assembly we are effectively declaring our abandonment not simply of the citizens of Creggan who must book their kids in to be mutilated, but similarly marginalised communities right across NI.

Martin exposes some of the damage done:

Today, 21 years after the crowning achievement of democratic politics on this island, two of the three strands of the Good Friday Agreement are suspended in full and the third is a pale shadow of its former self.

We are absolutely right to demand that the British parliament not fatally undermine the Agreement, but let’s not fool ourselves about the damage done to the Agreement well before Brexit.

Over two years ago the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland were pulled-down over a heating scheme.  No matter how much people try to claim otherwise, they weren’t pulled down on high principle or to improve democratic legitimacy, they were pulled down to score political points.

This comes from a mentality which says that the existence of parliament or government is negotiable.  What they don’t seem to understand is that for democrats, a parliament is a place you go to solve problems – not a place you refuse to go unless your problems are sorted in advance.

And the impact on Northern Ireland over the last two years has been much deeper than has ever been reported in the Dublin media.

That’s only the tip of a pretty evil iceberg. Lay aside the innate cruelty and fear inflicted upon the communities themselves, they also have to bear a terrible economic cost as well. Overall Northern Ireland is actually more peaceful society than almost anywhere in the UK.

Possibly one of the most lasting effects of the persistence of paramilitaries is the economic blight it brings in its wake. The former U.S. Consul General for Belfast Dean Pittman was fond of saying during his time here, ‘capital is a coward’.

For the most part this means that inward investment tends to flow to where jobs already are. And public subsidies from large public institutions like Invest NI tend to follow where overseas investors feel more comfortable.

In 2008-12 in south Belfast for instance 2430 new jobs were supported by Invest NI at a cost of £37.9 million for an overall investment value of £278.35 million. In west Belfast in the same period there were 913 new jobs supporter with input of £5.74 million for an over value of £53.87.

To paraphrase Gerry Adams, they aren’t going away on their own just because we ignore them. Those with the politics, like Adams, Eastwood, Martin and the Tanaiste must take them on directly on the grounds on which they pitch against the Belfast Agreement.

And then follow through with practical support of the forgotten people of the peace era.

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