Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 4 October 2015

Creating a crisis out of a drama in Assembly

Published 27/08/2008

Nobody would put money on the crunch September 18 Executive |meeting taking place, says Political Correspondent Noel McAdam

Sinn Fein and the DUP are now engaged in a ‘call my bluff’ stand-off with the future of the Assembly at stake.

Sixteen months into their ‘odd couple’ partnership in government, both parties have talked the devolution of policing and justice issue into a real, rather than apparent, crisis.

The danger is that both parties have entrenched their public positions to such an extent that neither can afford to be seen to climb down.

Policing and justice remain the key touchstone area for Sinn Fein and a step too far, for now for the DUP. They are both agreed it should happen: the dispute is over how it should happen, and when.

It is not surprising that the two major parties have still found no way to read each other. Thus the DUP does not believe Sinn Fein is serious about imploding the Executive and taking the national, and international, blame for collapsing devolution.

And at the same time privately Sinn Fein is bargaining on the calculation that the DUP, particularly post-Dromore and facing a potentially difficult European fight without Ian Paisley, does not want to face an election.

While it has been on the radar since St Andrews, two years ago next month, Sinn Fein intensified the political pressure over policing and justice almost the same day Peter Robinson finally succeeded Ian Paisley in the First Ministers’ chair.

This therefore remains a test of the new DUP leader’s mettle as much as anything, and, with at least one eye on the fundamentalist wing of his party, he knows that.

But Sinn Fein is also looking over its shoulder, coming under pressure from growing grassroots concern across a range of issues, a relatively new experience for the republican leadership.

Both Mr Robinson and Gerry Adams had talked about a “battle a day” in government together and it is well recognised the relationship has not been that way. At least until now.

Delayed water charges; fast action on last year’s floods and foot-and-mouth; shorter hospital waiting lists; compulsory seatbelts on school buses and major infrastructure investment, thanks to the Irish exchequer, not to mention a hard-won agreed Budget and rudimentary Programme for Government. These are real achievements by the Executive since May of last year, among many others.

The fact is, however, that neither party has a whole lot it can point to, in terms of their respective core agendas, in terms of completion and the administration has failed to achieve the impression of bedding down.

As a result, uncertainty has increased and confidence has decreased and no one would put money on the scheduled September 18 meeting of the Executive taking place.

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