Belfast Telegraph

Malachi O'Doherty: If the brats won't oblige each other, then Mother Bradley better prepare to roll up her sleeves

Only one party is imposing a veto on the return of Stormont, but the truth is they all would if it suited their purposes. This farce has gone on long enough, writes Malachi O'Doherty

How long can Northern Ireland continue with no power-sharing at Stormont?
How long can Northern Ireland continue with no power-sharing at Stormont?

The first responsibility of government is to govern. Right? Well, ours has got an excuse. It isn't really a government; it is a devolved Executive.

It doesn't have tax raising powers or a standing army or a foreign policy. It leaves all that to Mother.

And now, like a teenager who won't tidy her bedroom, we know that ultimately, when the job has to be done, it will be done. And Mother will get in there with a mop and dustpan and make the room fit for human habitation again.

And to extend the analogy, of course Mother will get no thanks for this.

In our case, Mother is holding out for the errant child to have a change of heart. That is the only explanation for the refusal to penalise those who abandon their posts, the disinclination to do their jobs for them and the prolonged stasis.

Mother doesn't want to be Mother any more.

Which is amazing when you think of it.

The teenager's complaint, after all, is that Mother is so overbearing. She has been throwing her weight around for - goodness! - 800 years. Now after inflicting all kinds of grief, from Cromwell to Famine, and stamping her foot and shrieking, "there's going to be changes round here", Mother doesn't want to be an imperial dictator now. She's on strike.

You can rely on nobody.

She's saying: 'Sort out your own incinerators, your health service, your cross border electricity inter-connector, your compensation for abuse victims and your water shortage. I've got a headache. I'm going to bed.'

Wouldn't it be wonderful if it was actually as dramatic as that. Instead, Theresa May just looks preoccupied and her representative on Earth, Karen Bradley, looks slightly dazed.

And the teenager continues to huff and moralise and smugly proclaim that she isn't the problem: "It's her. Big sister. She's Mother's favourite."

All the stroppy teenager wants is equality and if she's not going to get equality then nobody - but nobody - is going to get anything else.

Saying in effect: "You think that schools not being able to pay their way is a problem? You think that clogged up A&E departments is a problem? You think that not being able to wash your car is a problem? I know a guy who speaks Irish and he's afraid that one day he'll be charged with speeding and have to defend himself in the language of the imperial oppressor."

Doesn't he speak English too?

"That's not the point!"

Well, what is the point?

"The point is that Arlene says I'm a crocodile. She says I'm blonde."

You are blonde.

"That's not the point!"

According to the ruling of the Court of Appeal, civil servants can't take decisions; only ministers can do that.

That brings us to the full implications of Sinn Fein's withdrawal from the Executive. Either it goes back in and makes decisions or Mother makes them instead. And Mother is disinclined to do that for then the teenager will say she is just being an imperial oppressor again.

The question for you and me is: how much longer can this farce continue?

Perhaps not the worst possible consequence of this is that North Down MP Sylvia Hermon will ask Karen Bradley another perfectly sensible question and Ms Bradley will crawl into a corner and weep. Would it not be possible to make Lady Hermon the Secretary of State?

Don't you love her?

A few weeks ago at a select committee meeting she laid waste to one bumptious upstart who was pontificating about Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement.

"Have you read the Good Friday Agreement?" asked Sylvia. "Have you?" Last week Lady Hermon was harassing poor Ms Bradley with the charge that she had wimped out of cutting the pocket money and privileges of all the teenagers, whether they have tidy bedrooms or not.

Ms Bradley doesn't want to do that.

The injustice is plain. Only one party is boycotting Stormont and holding it to ransom. Only one teenager has a messy bedroom.

Of course, all the other good children are saying they'd love to have their pocket money cut, just to show what good children they are.

But they wouldn't.

The victims of a slash and burn policy on salaries would be the Ulster Unionist Party, SDLP and Alliance Party, the ones who can least afford the loss.

And in the bosom of Mother resides a fantasy that gives her a warm glow, that one day the stroppy parties will be eclipsed by the nice parties and everything will work out fine. But for that to happen they need to survive.

The trouble is that if any party has a chance to bully all others out of their jobs to get its way, it will do that.

Practically every party that has had a chance to pull down the Assembly has either done so or threatened to.

If a party has power to assert itself, it will.

Like any brat, it will find the weakness it can work on.

There is no civility in politics unless there is something to be got in return for it.

The Ulster Unionists brought down the Assembly because of the IRA's procrastination over decommissioning.

The SDLP's Seamus Mallon almost banjaxed its restoration with an umbrage resignation that was later revoked. The DUP threatened to pull it down over the On The Run letters to IRA members fleeing the law, and Sinn Fein threatened to walk out unless Justice was devolved.

Even Alliance jeopardised the Assembly once by refusing to go on being the "back half of the circus horse" by designating as unionist to save David Trimble and later by refusing to take the Justice portfolio and forcing the other parties to phone up Claire Sugden while she was out shopping.

One must suppose that if the Greens or People Before Profit had the power to crash Stormont they would at least threaten to.

Parties use what power they have.

And so there is merit in Peter Robinson's recent suggestion that the Executive be protected against being brought down by any one party that just happens to be in a huff.

But in the meantime we have one party imposing a veto and nothing getting done and the Court of Appeal confirming that nothing can be done until a minister says so.

The ministers in Stormont are stumped and the ministers in Westminster are looking round themselves as if they truly believe there is nothing they can do.

Surely this huff has gone on long enough and if the brats won't oblige each other, then Mother needs to roll her sleeves up.

Belfast Telegraph


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