Belfast Telegraph

Irish unity needs the Northern Ireland Assembly to be firing on all cylinders

Republicans cannot indefinitely delay restoration of the power-sharing institutions while they pursue their coalition ambitions in Dublin, writes Anthony McIntyre

Currently, in the north, the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, and Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney are scurrying around, seemingly oblivious to the "busy fool" concept.

James, as he views his broken shire, is said to be feverishly working behind the scenes in a bid to pull it all back together again by having the main protagonists meet in secret.

More upfront, Simon Coveney has taken to gallivanting from one part of the Bantustan to another, meeting him, her and Uncle Tom Cobley.

By now, he must understand that the term 'Minister for Foreign Affairs' is most apt when he visits a place like the north, where he is certain to be confronted with its mish-mash of alien ideas, archaic attitudes and an insufferable political narcissism which helps comfortably blinker out of view what the chief executive of Co-operation Ireland, Peter Sheridan, referred to as "the rights of the other community".

If both ministers express optimism, even if only for the optics, about a rapid resumption of the Executive, they remind us of another concept they have forgotten: that in the north no pessimist was ever proven wrong.

While each behaves like the character from Sean O Faolain's short story, "who hadn't got a spare sixpence of an idea to fumble for", the north's political class continues doing what has long defined it - procrastination.

It is hugely enamoured to the notion of delay and defer, which was ingrained in their collective psyche by Tony Blair, who visited the place around 40 times, almost certainly more than he travelled to Iraq, where he both started and waged an unjust war.

The lesson learned by the political class was that, if it throws the rattle out of the pram and howls enough, it will attract attention and copious quantities of pacifiers.

Having established a pattern of penultimate deadline by endless postponement, the two governments should at least desist from expressing displeasure at the monkey when it reaches out for low-hanging fruit.

The DUP, as usual, has taken to blaming Sinn Fein for the administrative hiatus. The nationalist party stands accused by Sammy Wilson of having "demands and red lines ... so unrealistic that there is not going to be an agreement".

While it might come as no surprise to learn that Roy Beggs of the UUP backed Wilson, an eyebrow or two might be raised in the direction of the SDLP's Claire Hanna, who earlier this week tweeted that: "Danny Morrison today gives SF thinking in a nutshell - killing Good Friday & handing us all to Tories is worth it to make point to the DUP."

So, in a nutshell of a different sort, it is all Sinn Fein's fault: the party prefers direct rule to a power-sharing executive; its eye more on power in the south than progress in the north.

How representative Morrison is of what Sinn Fein believes prior to the commission of the party's approved thinking is not as readily apparent as Hanna might hypothesise.

He has often been behind the curve on these matters.

He is not a policy-maker, but someone who often wrongly anticipates what way the cat might jump and leaps first, only to find the cream has soured. Hence his serious errors of judgment about IRA weaponry decommissioning and the party response to visits from British royalty.

Morrison is much more adept at falling into line with party policy than he is at predicting it, as is evidenced from his reading of the party's relationship with the DUP at the "moment of creation".

Writing prior to the DUP-Sinn Fein coalition in 2007, he said: "Increasingly I think we must need our heads examined. Just because he represents the largest party might entitle him to be First Minister - but, in truth, who could work with this one-man Executive? He is ill-mannered, arrogant, pompous and bigoted.

"We want the north to change, to modernise, and not to be stuck in the Sixteenth century having the Protestant Reformation shoved down our throats. What an advertisement he would be around the world. We would be a laughing stock. We would be building on gas."

In short, Morrison is not a reliable barometer of Sinn Fein policy.

Party luminary Jim Gibney waxes somewhat more sanguine than Morrison. He is also more in tune with what is being thought within the party, even if he inherits ideas rather than patents them.

His view is that "it is difficult to say if the north's executive, assembly and all-Ireland ministerial council will function again in the foreseeable future".

He has floated the fanciful notion that, if observers look past the DUP, "there is clearly some new and fresh thinking taking place among a section of unionist opinion".

This is a regurgitation of the old Sinn Fein shibboleth, supported by strategic nothingness, of identifying a unionist de Klerk.

It is born not of acuity, but of aridity. Courtesy of Tory misfortunes, the DUP is in the ascendancy and there is nothing for Sinn Fein to look past other than the wilderness of direct rule, which the vastly experienced Ken Bloomfield suggests is the most likely option should the shouting fail to reach a mutually agreed conclusion.

Better for Sinn Fein as suggested by Morrison?

Hardly. It only makes political, strategic and indeed historic sense for Sinn Fein to "smash Stormont" if in its stead there was to be a move towards more rule from Dublin and less from London, even with the latter remaining the dominant partner: a rolling transfer of sovereignty, where power shifts incrementally from London to Dublin. There is not the slightest sign of this happening.

Because Sinn Fein is so heavily focused on the south - it has little strategic choice - it does not follow that the northern institutions can simply be permanently upended.

For, if the party is to succeed in its pretence that a united Ireland of sorts - just not the one "traditionally envisaged", to cite Adams - can be put in place, it requires the apparatus in the north to be firing on all cylinders.

Sans executive resumption, at some point prior to the next southern general election, Sinn Fein, with its ceiling of ambition limited to propping up Fianna Fail, or Fine Gael, merely becomes a strain of the Labour Party. The latter's death by deception will serve as a salutary warning to Sinn Fein.

While Morrison's observation that the Sinn Fein base has shifted seems accurate, there has been no party leadership in the island more capable of getting the base to slaughter sacred cows than the current camarilla and cabal heading Sinn Fein.

If there is no groundswell against the politically promiscuous search in Dublin for any suitor - no matter how conservative - it is difficult to imagine the base continuing to hold the line against a resumption of the Executive, no matter how weak the terms, at a point when it is most conducive to leadership ambitions.

  • Anthony McIntyre is a former IRA prisoner, journalist and co-founder of The Blanket, an online magazine that critically analysed the peace process. He blogs at thepensivequill.am

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