British and Irish governments must soon accept what
is blindingly obvious to virtually everyone else.
That is, there is no prospect of Sinn Féin
and the DUP agreeing to form a powersharing Executive
by the deadline of November 24th, or at any time
in the near future.
who still thinks otherwise must surely have missed
the farcical goings-on at Stormont during the past
far, there has been no attempt at serious deliberation,
just an all too predictable display of boorish behaviour,
petty point-scoring and squabbling over irrelevancies.
nothing else, it has given further evidence of how
little seriousness the major parties attach to the
whole exercise. Neither are there even the slightest
grounds for believing that the situation might improve.
After an assembly session on Monday that lasted
all of 14 minutes, DUP leader Ian Paisley made that
clear to the waiting media.
announced, to the obvious delight of his colleagues,
that the DUP would not negotiate with Sinn Féin
on the governance of Northern Ireland. This effectively
rendered meaningless a proposed cross-party committee
to discuss the restoration of devolution even before
it has been established.
it appears, this committee will serve only as a
platform for rehearsing, without room for question
or explanation, the mutually incompatible and now
boringly familiar party positions. Though one might
have imagined it scarcely possible to further limit
the potential for agreement, Paisley then managed
to do even that. He also declared that neither would
he be having any more dealings with Ulster Unionist
leader Sir Reg Empey because of the UUP's recent
co-option of PUP leader David Ervine into its Assembly
were hardly the words or attitude of someone positioning
his party for a historic compromise. The DUP, as
they so often point out, would certainly like to
see devolved government restored to Northern Ireland,
but not if the price for that is having to share
ministerial posts with Sinn Féin.
their part, despite what they claim, Sinn Féin
has no interest in helping deliver political and
social stability. A Northern Ireland society contented
and at peace with itself is hardly conducive to
their pursuit of a united Ireland.
such circumstances were allowed to pertain, the
chances of them ever being able to convince a majority
that their best interests lay in a 32 county unitary
state would plummet from very slim to zero.
has been argued as a positive that there is a short-term
incentive for Sinn Féin to reach agreement,
because ministerial positions in a Northern Ireland
Executive would give a boost to their upcoming election
campaign in the Republic. For the rest of us, an
Executive formed solely, and temporarily, to facilitate
the electoral ambitions of a single party would
not constitute political progress. But even aside
from that, Sinn Féin has no need to go to
the bother. Playing the role of the thwarted peacemakers,
at which they excel, will serve the same purpose.
Fein's only real concern is to ensure the DUP takes
full blame for the inevitable failure, and that
won't prove too difficult.
question is not whether the parties will reach agreement
by November 24th but, increasingly, why wait until
then to bring this embarrassing charade to an end.
If, despite all evidence to the contrary, they are
indeed serious about reaching agreement, then the
politicians are quite capable of managing that on
their own. There is no need for innumerable representatives
of three sovereign governments to continue dancing
attendance and bending to every whim of a bunch
of self-important, time wasters to facilitate something
they claim to want anyway.
after the deadline expires, the British government
must hold fast to its threat to close the Assembly
and stop members' salaries and allowances. It must
not be tempted, yet again, by half-promises from
the parties into continuing with a tortuous and
convoluted process of once-removed negotiations
that are going nowhere.
should they be fooled by predictable waffle about
the dangers of leaving a political vacuum. Except
for the few months when an Assembly was operating,
we have survived for decades without devolved government.
is not even as though there is any level of public
expectation within Northern Ireland that the parties
will manage to form an Executive or, in all truth,
any great desire that they do. Most people have
long ago given up on devolution.
November 24th, the attitude of both the British
and Irish governments to the parties - particularly
the DUP and Sinn Féin - should be "contact
us only when you have reached a comprehensive agreement
on the restoration of devolution, and not before
should be made clear, that responsibility for internal
political progress, if they want it, now rests solely
the governments should do what they promised and
push ahead with all other aspects of the Belfast
Agreement. There is nothing to stop them building
on their much improved relationship and co-operating
further on security, policing and economic matters.
is not needed for any of that: it is time to pull
the shutters down.
with permission from the author.