is becoming clearer by the day that the British
government believes the political institutions in
Northern Ireland cannot be revived. Whether the
judgment is that neither Sinn Féin nor the
DUP is genuinely committed to reaching an agreement
on power-sharing or, more charitably, that the gulf
between them is so wide as to be unbridgeable is
far more pressing matters than Northern Ireland
demanding their full attention, the most obvious
being the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks in
Britain, it seems Tony Blair and his government
are no longer prepared to waste precious time, energy
and resources on the political equivalence of an
irresistible force arm-wrestling with an immovable
from a British perspective the peace process, even
as it stands, can only be considered a success.
In the absence of a devolved Assembly it hasn't
been as successful as it might have been, but with
thousands of troops no longer bogged down here and
peace of a sort established the situation is light
years beyond what it once was. The "armed struggle"
is at an end and the activities of militant republicanism
now confined to a tiny, hermetically sealed, corner
of the UK. With Sinn Féin continuing to expand
its political base in the Republic it could even
be argued that, in many respects, the problem of
how to deal with "a vast criminal and political
conspiracy" now rests with the Dublin administration.
of whether or not the political process can be put
back on track, the peace process will be enhanced
further still if the IRA lives up to last week's
promises. So for the foreseeable future British
attention will be focused almost exclusively on
ensuring the IRA does indeed deliver.
that end and within reason, the government will
determinedly press ahead with whatever measures
it deems necessary, irrespective of who it offends.
This means that unionists are set to suffer frequent
offence in the months ahead. A distinct change in
emphasis has already been apparent from the speed
and manner of the government's reaction to last
week's IRA statement.
is clear that consulting (never mind trying to reach
agreement) with nationalists and unionists before
taking decisions on sensitive or volatile issues
is no longer of any great concern.
pave the way for the IRA statement, the Secretary
of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, ordered
the release from prison of Shankill bomber Seán
Kelly. He didn't bother giving advance notice of
his decision to the relatives of Kelly's victims
- arguably, something he was legally obliged to
do - never mind to unionist politicians.
the relatives, the first they heard of it was on
local television and radio news reports. Likewise,
it was a BBC Radio Ulster current affairs programme,
Talk Back, rather than army chiefs or government
ministers that first informed members of the home-based
battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment (some 3,100
people in total) that they would be made redundant
in 2007. Neither the soldiers nor unionist politicians
had been given any prior notice that such a decision
was imminent. On Tuesday of this week, Peter Hain
decided to extend by up to a year the terms of office
of serving members of the Northern Ireland Policing
Board. Established in 2001, the board was due its
first revamp this coming October when, in line with
the most recent Assembly election results of 2003,
the DUP would have been entitled to claim a further
two seats currently occupied by the Ulster Unionist
a result of Hain's decision, political membership
will, instead, continue to reflect the results of
the Assembly elections of 1998.
DUP will still hold a minority share of the unionist
seats even though it now represents a clear majority
of the unionist electorate.
Hain simply ignored strong protests from the DUP
and went ahead with his decision.
what they may say, neither Sinn Féin nor
the DUP will be too discomfited by the prospect
of the Assembly not being reinstated. Not least
because the government assessment is right: for
completely different reasons neither is interested
in sharing power with the other.
or without a working Assembly, Sinn Féin
will continue its twin-track policy of creating
instability in Northern Ireland while expanding
its electoral base in the Republic.
don't need the IRA or its weaponry to foment trouble
around issues such as flags, parades or policing.
the wake of Seán Kelly's release and the
disbanding of the RIR battalions, the DUP, in line
with a majority of the unionist electorate, will
now be even less inclined, if that is possible,
to share executive office with Sinn Féin.
will content themselves, instead, with politics
at Westminster and in Europe.
the rest of us will just have to await the long
overdue reorganisation of local government in Northern
Ireland, with its promise of far fewer but much
more powerful local councils, to deliver locally
based, representative and accountable, democratic
with permission from the author.