long have they been at it now - five, ten or twenty
years? If by some chance the sun sets in the East
and a deal emerges from the current round of endless
negotiations, it shall result from a range of constraints
rather than any genuine willingness to bring the
peace process to a conclusion. Only the chancers
inhabiting our political class, and we incurable
fools or aficionados - take your pick - who write
about them have any real interest in the thing.
The public is largely indifferent. Its attitude
seems to be one of better to have the Brits govern
us; who at least will spend the money that is in
the public purse rather than hoard a million a day
to be returned to the British chancellor at the
end of the financial year.
is a while since Seamus Mallon let quip that the
Good Friday Agreement was Sunningdale for slow learners.
But like the old adage that if you lie down with
a dog you will rise with fleas, slow learning has
proved pretty infectious and can easily pull others
into the 'slow classroom'. Surely by now it should
have dawned on the London and Dublin governments
that the political class they see squabbling when
they wake up in the morning and still squabbling
when they retire to bed at night has little need
of the political institutions allowed for under
the aegis of the Good Friday Agreement. It already
has its institutions courtesy of the peace process.
The summits, meetings, bilaterals, one to ones,
trips to the White House, visits by Presidents,
Prime Ministers and Taoisaigh, elections, even when
they don't happen, the odd crisis thrown in for
good measure - no political stew can be kept on
the simmer without the spice of intrigue - all of
this constitutes the political institutions for
Northern Ireland's political class.
underpinning of the peace process means that the
point of institutional abeyance is never reached.
Even without the Assembly there is no shortage of
political horse-trading. Each side is able to wring
a lot more out of government through summitry that
they would ever manage plodding the local political
trek at Stormont. Look at a country like Macedonia,
infinitely poorer, plagued by the same type of venal
politicians - they seem to manage without being
pampered. Poor street kids have always managed to
solve their problems and differences in the local
park. It was the rich pampered brats that lifted
their ball and shouted 'mammy' each time things
didn't go their way. And because mammy would always
be there, mammy's boy would spoil the game for everybody
else and huff off with his ball.
matter how often the Labour of Sisyphus is told,
the story has never concluded with anything other
than the stone falling back of its own weight. For
indulging this place why should London and Dublin
escape, to paraphrase Camus, their 'dreadful punishment
... (of) ... futile and hopeless labour'? Governments,
at times, deserve the people they get.
peace process has been very lucrative for those
involved in terms of political dividends, name and
face recognition, property ownership and bank balances.
As has often been said, when do fat cats vote for
something other than more fat? Kill the golden goose?
No chance. Left to their own devices the peace process
and its attendant summitry would totter on ad infinitum.
And if a point has at last been reached where the
bluffers can no longer bluff it out, then it is
because circumstances have gone beyond even their
has always been known that at some point the gravitational
pull of the centre ground of the Good Friday Agreement
would prove too strong to be resisted by what existed
on the extremes. It was never known when that point
would be reached. Now as Sinn Fein and the DUP stare
at each other across the negotiating table, using
actors voices provided by government staff
to maintain the fiction that they are not really
negotiating, there has been a groundswell of optimism
that at last the story of Sisyphus will be rewritten.
we have been at this point so many times before.
Bill Clintons boozers jibe of many years ago
has lost none of its currency. No matter how many
agreements are made to leave the bar, our political
drunks never manage to make it through the swinging
doors for any length of time.
it really so different this time? Are we not just
watching a more finely tuned preparation for the
blame game, which might just, in spite of itself
and the intentions of the players, compel them to
stumble into an arrangement that neither really
wanted but feared the cost of being out-flanked
by the opposition more?
has yet to be explained is just what are the external
constraints that are going to force such a deal,
that make the cost of failure to strike one not
worth the risk. Did Sinn Fein shaft Trimble last
October just to meet even more stringent terms for
entry into government? Did the DUP shaft him as
well so that Paisley or Robinson could walk in his
dead mans shoes?
it is time for cynics like myself to move on, seek
out other interests, even comment on other matters.
Our senses have been so dulled by endless processing
that we can easily write commentary pieces to cover
events before they happen, not having to change
a word when they have come to pass. Opinion pieces
on the outcome of Septembers Leeds talks could
easily have been written in July and post-dated.
a deal is struck, as some year it will be, I fear
we will have become too anesthetized to feel it.