Thursday 11 February 2010

Crisis postponed

It seems increasingly clear that the Hillsborough Agreement was neither an agreement nor a solution to Northern Ireland's festering political problems.

The 'Agreement' merely set out an interlocking series of dates by which certain steps ought to be taken, but if any of them are not taken then the whole ramshackle construction comes to a halt. The two most important interlocking pieces are, of course, policing and justice, and parading – and the dates that the Agreement foresees for them are a bit scrambled, probably deliberately:

On policing and justice: "Following community consultation the First Minister and deputy First Minister will table jointly a resolution for a cross-community vote in the Assembly on 9 March".

But, before that: "Working group [on parading] completes work and reports on agreed outcomes to FM/dFM by 23 February".

So, the clear implication is that, if there are no 'agreed outcomes' on parading, the whole show stops. And Peter Robinson is, unhelpfully, starting to make warlike noises on parading:

In today's Belfast Telegraph Robinson writes:

"It has been a clear contradiction that, while the nationalist community demanded power be shared at Stormont, a section of nationalists refused to share something as basic as a road in an ever-increasing number of towns and villages across Northern Ireland.

Its potential as a public order issue makes the link between it and policing clear.

Furthermore, our present system, the Parades Commission, has been a failure. It issued incoherent, unexplained and inconsistent determinations which did nothing to resolve the issues.

The swift timeline towards publication of draft legislation on the parades issue means that everyone will be able to see very quickly how the new start to parading can come about.

Indeed the report of the working group will be published before the Assembly takes its decision on policing and justice."
While the working group on parading has been given fairly clear instructions by the Hillsborough Agreement, there is sufficient room for movement to allow it to fail to agree – and given the DUP's repeated positions in favour of unlimited rights to march, it is likely that there will be, in fact, no agreement.

The failure of the parading working group would lead to yet another freezing of the transfer of policing and justice, with the inevitable consequences.

It is likely that the DUP does not actually intend to see the transfer of policing and justice on 12 April – it has merely agreed with Hillsborough in order to push the problem further into the future, and to try to use the parading issue as a way of pretending that the inflexibility is from Sinn Féin, rather than from the DUP.

The failure to agree by 23 February will be accompanied by furious denials of responsibility by the DUP members of the working group, and furious recriminations. Whether this will convince anyone is irrelevant – it will simply be designed to muddy the waters and to try to spread the blame. Before Hillsborough the 'blame' was clearly being attributed to the DUP by every single external actor – London, Dublin, Washington – and many internal actors – the PSNI, churches, etc – but if the DUP can succeed in confusing some people then they will feel that it was a worthwhile exercise.

And, of course, on April 12, when policing and justice is not actually transferred, what will the media be obsessing about? Yes, indeed, that is the exact date when Gordon Brown will be expected to dissolve the Westminster parliament in order to hold the election on May 6. So Northern Ireland will not even be mentioned in the media, and the DUP will feel that they have won a reprieve until well after the election – and election in which they will not have to face the extremist voters fearful of being called Lundies. No transfer of policing and justice before the election, confusion about whose fault it really is – the DUP's game plan could barely be clearer.

And after the election, the crisis begins again. Yet again.


Faha said...

If the vote to devolve policing and justice does not take place on March 9th, or if the vote is held and the DUP vote against the devolution of policing and justice, then I believe that Martin McGuinness would resign shortly afterwards. The Assembly would be dissolved by the end of March and there would be Assembly elections the same day as the Westminster elections. Gordon Brown has already stated that he will not suspend the Assembly but will call for an election instead. The DUP lost 43% of their vote to the TUV in the European elections. The recent scandals involving the Robinson's will only increase the loss of votes to the TUV and UUP. If the DUP reject the devolution of policing and justice then they face an electoral meltdown in 2, not one, elections.

Anonymous said...


as per my previous remarks in your previous thread on this subject I have to disagree with you on this UNLESS we assume the DUP are really in quite a mess.

Begore the 'deal' was made the DUP could put forward other reasons rather than parading for not going ahead with devolution of Police e.g. it was not in the STA as a deadline and Unionist 'confidence' was not sufficient and perhaps more importantly the onus was on SF for a collapse. Now, having agreed to devolution, subject to parading, they will be seen to be the ones doing the collpasing and solely on the issues of parades. I dont think Robinson would have chosen this path as he would surely have been better to not have gone for the deal in the first place.

I think your earlier contention that Robinson wanted to be seen to be acting tough is more probable and will keep the threat of collapse going until after the Westmninster elections where it could be used tactically against the UUP - if they ever declare their hand on any issue - by appearing 'tougher' on SF than the UUP and perhaps after the UCUNF project has fallen apart if the new unlikely alliance does poorly at the Westminsters.

Nordie Northsider said...

The big winners in this could be the dissident republicans. If some marches are forced through Nationalist areas with baton charges and CS gas, the dissidents will say 'Look, Sinn Féin used these communities as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with the DUP. Look at how much the police have really changed'
If Sinn Féin stand their ground and the whole structure of devolved power-sharing collapses the dissidents can say 'Look, didn't we tell you that the Northern state cannot be reformed?' The DUP ought to reflect on just what is gained by trying to humilate Sinn Féin.

hoboroad said...

Jud said...

Yup - I think your article defines the 'clever device' PR referred to previously.

Just how clever it is remains to be seen...

bangordub said...

Interesting Odds over at Paddy Power on assembley seats if there were an election now