Posted By: July 05, 2014

Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, July 5, 2014.

MARTIN McGuinness is right. (Now, there is a sentence you were not expecting.) Prior
to his London visit, Mr McGuinness said that the Conservative Party is actively
courting the DUP for parliamentary support after next May's British general

This, he suggested, removed much of the incentive for the DUP to work towards
reaching agreement on flags, parades and the past - or even to engage in normal
government. Political progress here is being adversely affected by one party having
its eyes on events elsewhere.

He had a good point. Peter Robinson would have had a good point too had he bothered
to reply. He might have suggested that at least some of Sinn Féin's northern
policies, such as the electorally popular opposition to welfare reform, are
significantly influenced by its ambition to gain seats in the next Dublin cabinet.
Sinn Féin also has its sights set beyond Stormont.

Although both parties' ambitions were not apparently discussed during Wednesday's
talks in London, their serious divergence over welfare reform reflected their
separate political objectives in two different states. So if they have markedly
different targets for the future, can they ever agree on the past, or even
co-operate in the present?

It is clear that David Cameron will need parliamentary allies, or even coalition
partners, after the 2015 election. Forming a Westminster government usually requires
winning at least 40 per cent support. Labour and the Conservatives are currently
running at just over 35 per cent each.

In return for the support of eight MPs, the DUP would presumably expect Westminster
backing (both open and secret) in local politics here. But might they ask for more?
For example, could we expect to see Nigel Dodds as a Minister of State in the
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, or will the DUP settle for support
on flags and more frequent royal visits?

There is no doubt about Sinn Féin's ambitions. The party has already made overtures
to Fine Gael as a potential coalition partner. Independent TD, Stephen Donnelly,
recently resigned from the Banking Inquiry panel because, he said, the Taoiseach was
"treating democracy in a cavalier manner" by imposing two senators on the inquiry
panel to guarantee a government majority. In a sign of things to come, Sinn Féin
supported Mr Kenny by remaining on the panel.

Oddly, Sinn Féin does not appear ready to send its five, highly talented MPs to
Westminster, where issues such as welfare reform could be tackled at source. The
traditional abstentionist argument of not recognising the legitimacy of British rule
in Ireland has long since gone, as the party is now an integral part of what it used
to call the British establishment in Ireland. (The party appears to shun a
democratic parliament, while toasting an unelected millionaire monarch, whose son
reportedly tried to influence the last Labour government to expand the grammar
school system through academic selection. So raise your glasses to Her Majesty and
academic selection.)

So our two main political parties have an agenda beyond The North. As a result,
local issues including health, education and employment have now been relegated to
the status of a sub-plot in our main political drama. With guaranteed power at
Stormont the two parties can do as they wish, content in the knowledge that there is
no Assembly opposition to replace them.

Effectively we now live in a de-politicised zone - the real politics are elsewhere.
Evidence of our declining political competence came this week from UUP leader, Mike
Nesbitt, who told Alex Kane that political divisions on the basis of left and right
ideologies are now obsolete. Instead, he suggested, the UUP believes in "fairness."
("Down with unfairness - it is so unfair." Next week: the UUP advocates happiness
for everyone.)

Meanwhile Sinn Féin says we must defend the peace process. (They have not suggested
against whom we should defend it, but never mind.) But are the political ambitions
of Sinn Féin and the DUP to self-servingly support conservative governments in
Dublin and London part of the peace process? Or are they part of a power process -
and if so, why should we defend their political ambitions?

Both parties are perfectly entitled to seek power and influence outside Stormont.
Indeed, in party political terms, both are right to do so. (This may be one of the
few examples where two rights make a wrong.)

But their pursuit of power and influence elsewhere means that the citizens of this
state must serve a life sentence as prisoners under a negligent system of

Now, there is another sentence you were not expecting.