Friday 8 January 2010

Policing and justice still haven't gone away, you know

Yesterday this blog expressed the optimistic hope that the humbling of another one of Northern Ireland's political families could lead to a more realistic and less tribal form of political discourse. However yesterday's hope may have been naïve. As this blog put it: "A first, and quite obvious, test of the chances of new humbler engagement between the two political blocks will come very soon" – that test was to be, of course, the meeting yesterday between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness to discuss movement on the transfer of policing and justice.

Today it is reported that "no progress has been made during talks to resolve the policing and justice dispute …"

Tomorrow, therefore, Martin McGuinness will brief the Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle accordingly. Added to this mix must be the comments (unreported on the DUP website) from Maurice Morrow, DUP MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, in which he said "there will be no devolution of policing and justice during the lifetime of this assembly….it is not going to happen and that is it. It will not happen before the general election or the assembly election. It is not an issue."

Sinn Féin has been consistently frustrated in its attempts to make progress on the transfer of policing and justice. The DUP has delighted in this frustration, reporting gleefully that they had blocked Sinn Féin. But ultimately Sinn Féin's patience must wear out, and when it does, the risk is that it will trigger a collapse of the institutions, or at least a fresh Assembly election. And that is something that the DUP surely do not want, particularly at this moment.

Sinn Féin's options are relatively limited. The party could collapse the institutions, freeze them, or accept the DUP continuing humiliation of them. No rational person could envisage that third option being followed, at least without some compensating movement elsewhere. But there is no evidence of compensating movement. So it appears that the outcome of this weekend's Ard Comhairle meeting will be a mandate for either the collapse or a strategic go-slow operation of the institutions. Sinn Féin is unlikely to repeat history by applying a blanket freeze on the Executive, as it did last year – it is much more likely, over the past few months, to have drawn up a plan to block issues of specific importance to the DUP. The DUP would naturally respond, and then the freeze would become complete.

The situation is approaching that of a Mexican stand-off, and the blame for it lies entirely with the DUP. That party has failed to understand either the collaborative nature of the new political arrangements in the north, or the basic political skills required to co-govern. It remains mired in the mindset of the past, and cannot see beyond its visceral hatred of nationalists. 'No surrender', 'not an inch', and 'Ulster says no' may have served it well in its climb up the greasy pole, but they are woefully inadequate political positions when you actually exercise power.

Sinn Féin, playing a long game as usual, are letting the DUP prove the truth of Charlie Haughey's famous put-down of Northern Ireland as a 'failed political entity'. They have successfully marshalled every other voice, without any exceptions, into supporting the transfer of policing and justice. The Irish, British and US governments, the churches, the business world, even the Chief Constable of the PSNI – all are on record as supporting, or not opposing, the transfer. Unionism, of all shades, is opposed. So if (or when) the institutions collapse over unionist intransigence on the issue, unionism will get the blame.

Lemming-like, unionism seems incapable of doing what is necessary to survive. Paralysed by fear of being branded Lundies, fear of the TUV, and fear of change – and consumed by their irrational hatred of even moderate nationalism – the DUP are likely to destroy themselves and the whole unionist project.


Dazzler said...

I did'nt expect unionism to agree to the devolution of P&J. Their tactic is to block anything nationalism wants.

SF should ask for immediate elections to the assembley if the executive collapses. If they agree, SF should give the DUP one last chance to set a date knowing that if they don't agree they will be cleaned in the elections especially now with the Robinson scandals.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, but quoting Haughey? That man was a crook and a lowlife who deserves Cromwell's post mortem fate, frankly (if the Irish were into that sort of think, which they are not, thankfully). There has never been a bigger shit in Irish public life. Surely someone more distinguished has made a similar remark. After all, to cite Haughey is to bring the verdict into question. He is just tweeedledee to unionist tweedledum (take your pick).

Anonymous said...

As the Buddha said, clinging and grasping, out of a desire for permanence is the root cause of suffering.

Nordie Northsider said...

If the Assembly were to collapse in the next few weeks would the election be held on the same day as the impending Westminster elections? That would be very, very messy but then so would asking people to vote twice within a short period.

Faha said...

Nordie Northsider,
According to the wording of the St. Andrew's agreement an election is not called immediately if the First Minister or Deputy First Minister resigns. There is a 6 week period during which there are theoretically new nominations for the position. However, if SF declines to nominate anyone and that 6 week period expires, then the Northern Ireland Secretary is then required to call Assembly elections. However, it is not clear how soon the election must take place. According to the BBC, SF have postponed the Ard Chomhairle scheduled for tomorrow due to weather conditions. I would expect that it will be rescheduled for late this month. If Martin McGuinness should resign in early February, then the Assembly would have until mid March to confirm his successor. If SF decided not to nominate anyone then in mid March the Northern Ireland Secretary would have to decide upon an election date. It would be at least a month later, which would mean an Assembly election in the second half of April. With Westminster elections occuring by June 3rd at the latest ( see Horseman's later post ) it is likely that the Assembly elections would held the same day for convenience. This happened in 2001 and 2005 when the District Council elections were held the same day as the Westminster elections. I doubt the resignation would come any later than late March, otherwise the Assembly election could not be held on the same day as the Westminster election due to that 6 week waitingf period before an election can be called.

Nordie Northsider said...

Thanks for that Faha.

Anonymous said...

The DUP's problem:
1. Sinn Fein are seen as a bunch of sectarian murdering scumbags, no matter what words of actions they use, 30 years of provisional movement sectarian and political slaughter and destruction is going to weigh heavier in any assessment of them.

2. Sinn Fein are seen as scheming and untrustworthy, their deliberate take down of the UUP who were seeking the first power sharing and reforming assembly, (since sunningdale came down) by using the stalling of PIRA decommissioning to sestroy them very nicely demonstrated this.

These are the problems also as seen by unionists as a whole. Unionists have been taught to never jump 1st or take any real risk with Sinn Fein by that party's actions and exploitation throughout the period from 1998 onwards. Any goodwill which Sinn Fein may have enjoyed even through their positive actions is well and truly burnt by their choices earlier in the Peace Process (TM).

Sinn Fein have made the problems with devolving P&J at this time largely themselves (distrust, ascent of the hardline party's to dominance), I've never voted DUP as I strongly dislike their mixture of evangelical fervor and right ring nationalistic conservatism.

However if Sinn Fein try to bring down the assembly because of the problems THEY'VE made around devolving policing and justice by screwing everyone over to ascend the crap heap of local politics I'll certainly consider it!

paul said...

give my head a holiday m8