Posted By: January 03, 2014

Denis Bradley. Irish News ( Belfast). Friday, January 3, 2014
Where are the Brits?
David Cameron has urged our political parties to make a deal on the three
contentious issues that constrain our politics. The British prime minister is
 urging people to make a deal on issues over which he has complete authority. Having gone
 missing for a few years, the British government is now spinning the yarn
 that the future well-being of the north of Ireland is in the hands of our political parties.
What is even worse is that some of the political parties and a big part of the
population have bought into the myth. Marching and the past have never been devolved
to the assembly and therefore lie in the control of the British government. 
There is an office a
 few hundred yards from the house of Commons with a staff
 that deals with marching and all of the many and complicated
 issues that pertain to the past. Flags are either flying or not flying or at
 half mast and whether or not those positions
can be devolved is beyond me.

So David Cameron is inviting us to collude in the spin (or the half-truth or the
lie) that the quality of our political future is subject to some fundamentalist
eccentricities of our political parties. If we are not careful we are in danger of
being hoodwinked into believing that about 80 per cent of us voted in the good
Friday Agreement to be governed by some combination of unionism and nationalism in a
devolved assembly.

That is not what was on the ballot paper. There were two governments who
 had signed
an international agreement to be co-guarantors of the future of Northern
 Ireland in all circumstances and who would cooperate with each other and
 with local politicians in governing the place fairly while leaving the 
constitutional question now and in
the future to the will of a majority of voters within Northern Ireland. That is 
what was on the ballot paper.
And we didn't get to put a mark on the ballot paper because our politicians 
were great negotiators who could work out a deal. There would have been no
 deals had there not been two governments sitting in the room or outside the 
door to make sure that compromises were made
 and agreements struck. And just for good measure
 there was a government in Washington only too 
willing to weigh in when necessary to twist
a few arms. Ironically, it was the Americans who first flagged up the recent
problems. While Theresa Villiers and Julian King, her main henchman in the 
Northern Ireland office, were trotting out the inept mantra that Northern
 Ireland was open for business, the Americans were warning that things were
 getting dangerously out of control. The Irish government, distracted by its 
economic problems, was slow to get into the game but after a 
mixture of internal and external pressure, Eamon Gilmore
did get stuck in.

Despite advice from the Irish and the Americans, the Brits stood aside from the
Haass negotiations, making it almost predictable that a deal could not be
 sealed. I would expect a first year political intern to know 
that had the parties been told and convinced that the
 governments would do the job if they didn't, Haass 
would have been going home with an agreed document. Given the 
damage that has been done over the last year or so to the economy,
 to policing, to relationships and the boost that has now been handed to
 cynicism, disengagement and dissidence, it is not acceptable
for the British government to pretend that they are not central players. 
The three issues are affecting the well-being and safety
 of people here and if the locals cannot resolve it
 then the two governments have that
 responsibility. The British are co-guarantors
 for the safety of policemen and women who 
will be in the frontline of continuing
 unrest and violence and all those communities
 who are deprived of proper
 policing because the dissidents are encouraged
 by the lack of political agreement.
If David Cameron cannot or will not see what is his moral, legal and political
responsibility then it is the task of the other co-guarantor to bring him and his
government to that awareness. That change of heart is normally
 achieved by charm and
diplomacy or, failing that, by holding someone's
 feet to the fire. We are told
 that the Irish government are good at the former
 and that the American 
Government are sometimes willing to help in the latter.