Brokenshire ensures a broken Stormont
Posted By: February 02, 2017
“Nearly two decades ago the [Unionist/Protestant] political majority here showed no warmth or bitter hostility to an agreement that brought the IRA’s political wing in from the cold. As for awarding the Irish identity of Nationalists equal status with Britishness, that notion went right by most Unionists and infuriated others. …
Fionnuala O’ Connor. Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, January 31, 2017
SECRETARY of State James Brokenshire weighed in at the weekend on behalf of the DUP, with his bogus complaint that disproportionate focus on security force killings rewrites history, a standard Arlene Foster line.
It was such bare-faced departure from the pretense to be above internal Northern Ireland politics that it surely confirmed the sense that Stormont2 Phase2 is a goner.
Foster with the replacement for Martin McGuinness Michelle O’Neill headed for Cardiff on Monday to meet a jet-lagged Theresa May, amid quibbling about no-longer first minister Foster’s standing in talks, O’Neill as still-entitled health minister allegedly fine. Does it matter?
How the story so far has worked out would now suggest a long pause before Stormont2 Phase3 gets going, if it ever does. We might as well say S2P2 and S2P3. After all the McGuinness-Foster combo renamed themselves The Executive Office or TEO. Though who noticed they were no longer the OffimDiffim (Office of the First and Deputy First Minister although was that capital D or small d?).
The one lasting significance is that McGuinness has retired. His departure, like his time as political frontman, cannot be re-run. Sinn Féin cannot squeeze out of voters, potential voters and the wider population another ounce of genuine sympathy for the ailing Derryman and they would be daft to try.
He took them, The North and a political lego-structure through a long ten years. Nobody else could have done it, and apart from his personal efforts like that moment on the Stormont steps with Sir Hugh Orde and Peter Robinson, much of the decade doesn’t bear re-examination.
After the 50-year long Stormont1, the brief power-sharing of 1974 doesn’t count as a Stormont2. From the start, it was painfully clear that only the splits among anti-power-sharers gave Brian Faulkner-led unionists any status. Ask any nationalist old enough what they remember – apart from unionist shouting, the loyalist strike and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings – and chances are it will be Faulkner and SDLP leader Gerry Fitt in propaganda mode smiling at each other, an uninspiring spectacle.
The equivalent flashback this time around would be the Ian Paisley/McGuinness smiles. The DUP forced Paisley out because he overdid the jollity as well as being well past retirement age but the chuckling also harmed McGuinness. Few beyond conflict resolution study circles bought the proposition of a reformed old hate-monger teamed with evolved IRA boss. Though some became sentimental again over the past weeks about the DUP’s first leader. But others recall very well how he enjoyed referring to McGuinness as “the deputy,” as though his own position was that of a prime minister, the Sinn Féiner, his subordinate sidekick.
McGuinness routinely smiled as though amused by the slight and placed a tactful, younger-relative-like hand under Paisley’s elbow. It was more pleasant to observe, even including the slight, than Stormont2 Phase1 Ulster Unionist David Trimble paired with the SDLP’s Seamus Mallon and then Mark Durkan. Neither with a paramilitary past, both of whom had already absorbed months of Trimble bad manners during negotiations.
Trimble just as much as Paisley gave himself prime ministerial airs and had an aversion to the words ‘power-sharing’ and ‘parity of esteem.’ Just under half of the unionists who voted in the 1998 referendum thought the Good Friday Agreement was bad and unworkable. Just over half voted for it. The GFA claimed overall support north and south because northern nationalists cheered it, with a healthy turnout in the south. But that unionist split was deep, lasting, corrosive.
Nearly two decades ago the political majority here showed no warmth or bitter hostility to an agreement that brought the IRA’s political wing in from the cold. As for awarding the Irish identity of Nationalists equal status with Britishness, that notion went right by most Unionists and infuriated others.
Nationalists and Republicans, a long-disheartened minority newly enchanted by possibility, came whistling up the steps as though they had always wanted a new Stormont. Unionists though it unworkable, and gave it no more than their presence. And guess what: Northern Ireland looks incapable of becoming a state agreed by unionists and nationalists, unworkable. That argument has a whole new wind behind it.
Jeffrey Donaldson, who walked out just as Trimble okayed the GFA, fancies direct rule from Westminster. Colum Eastwood, with two governments uninterested to the point of hostility, wants joint Irish-British authority. And Sinn Féin? Likable, open-faced O’Neill lacks the IRA past that silenced doubts. The McGuinness team stayed signed up out of deference. This election is only an interval.