Is the Stormont crisis too serious for satire?
It's sometimes too easy to satirise the shenanigans at Stormont.
MLAs at times present themselves as the softest of targets. But, as we look forward to the autumn session of the Assembly, the political process here has descended into farce.
While one definition of farce is as a comic work using buffoonery and horseplay, it can also be defined as “an event or situation that is absurd or disorganised”.
And, as we stand teetering on the precipice of either collapse or more talks, following the chief constable’s statement that PIRA members were involved in the murder of ex-republican prisoner Kevin McGuigan, it is fair to say the situation has become both absurd and clearly disorganised in terms of any rational way forward.
Of course, we should remember that two people died as result of the recent suspected feud between former IRA members; no-one should diminish this. But this has been a situation brewing on the plush benches of the Assembly for some time.
The collapse of the Stormont House Agreement over welfare reform has had the Stormont Executive Committee at loggerheads for months. With punitive amounts being deducted monthly by the Treasury from the Assembly’s block grant, due the failure to implement the welfare changes, Northern Ireland plc is rapidly running out of cash to maintain services.
Before any resolution of the current crisis, the devolved administration in Northern Ireland could be close to bankruptcy. That’s a stark fact that has been lost in recent days. At what point will the Department of Finance and Personnel have to tell the Head of the Civil Service that the coffers are empty?
What we have is not just a failure to co-operate, but a failure to comprehend the facts as they stand now.
While the commentators have been scrabbling all over the UUP’s decision to withdraw from the Executive, it is clear that whatever the rights or wrongs about alleged involvement of the Provisional IRA in the recent Short Strand killing, Mike Nesbitt’s move has had the rest of the parties scrabbling to catch-up.
It has also left the political landscape so badly fractured that the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers must be tearing her hair out to try and see any way forward. Pleas from her, the Irish government and the USA are seemingly falling on deaf ears.
Yet, the Assembly has published order papers and a schedule of committee meetings for next week. Sinn Féin appear to be trying to claw back some momentum in the high stakes game by placing a motion in front of Monday’s plenary session condemning the murders in East Belfast and calling for anyone with information to hand it to the PSNI.
That will be a fractious debate at best, if the Assembly can survive the weekend.
Throw into the equation the current scrutiny by the Assembly Committee for Finance and Personnel over the sale of Nama’s assets in Northern Ireland and it is clear that a perfect storm is not just brewing, but is howling through political corridors like a vengeful djinn.
With the PSNI backing the creation of an independent body to monitor paramilitary activity during Thursday’s Policing Board meeting, there may, however, be some wriggle room in the current crisis; albeit a small concession.
If the Assembly survives the current crisis, then the issue of welfare reform and dwindling money still needs to be addressed.
The farce will go on, and the cost to the region will have to be measured at some point, but the cost to MLAs – and ultimately the Assembly – will be high as public contempt for the political process reaches new heights. If the Assembly election takes place as planned in May, the turn-out will be low.
Farce? It’s too farcical to even regard it as a farce.