Elections aren’t even half the battle we face

Posted By: March 01, 2017

Brian Feeney.Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Three days from now we’ll know the outcome of the assembly election.

What happens next? If you’ve been following the campaign at all for the last couple of weeks, you’ll know tomorrow’s election is not to a new executive but to new negotiations. They will take a long time.

Certainly, any suggestion that Stormont will be up and running again in three weeks is fantasy.

After three weeks the law requires our sitting proconsul to call another election, which of course won’t happen. Another £5 million to get to where we’ll be on Saturday? On the other hand, there has not been one sensible word from the NIO about what happens next. Suspension? Zombie assembly?

Leaving aside the fact that Sinn Féin and the DUP are at loggerheads, let’s look at why a successful result after three weeks’ negotiations is a non-runner. It’s not anything like last May when the two main parties had pre-cooked their Program for Government and allocated the main ministries. It didn’t take them long to find a someone to occupy justice, and everything was up and running. Now they’re not even talking to each other, and Sinn Féin’s pre-condition is that Arlene Foster can’t be First Minister while the RHI inquiry continues so, three weeks mar dhea.

You might think the first item would be to establish an agenda and that it might take some time but that might not be the case. Sinn Féin, the SDLP and even the Alliance party have questioned the propriety of the proconsul chairing any talks given his obvious bias in favour of unionism in general and the DUP in particular.

He seems ignorant of the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement that “the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there [in The North] shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality… and shall be founded on the principles… of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities”. Both his words and actions leave him in flagrant breach of that commitment. Either he doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Whatever the case he acts as if there’s no such commitment. Certainly, it would be daft for Sinn Féin to agree to him as chair.

It’s not only the proconsul’s impartiality that’s been compromised. There’s also the fact that several of the matters to be resolved are there because British governments have failed to implement them despite their being previously agreed.

So do you think our proconsul will simply cave in and say, OK we’ll do it now to get an executive up and running? Not likely given that this British government’s policy is devised by the Daily Mail as last week’s remarks in the House of Commons by Theresa May demonstrate. She suggested bringing in legislation from the past that will undo the Stormont House Agreement. In short, her glove puppet here is part of the problem.

All that is before there’s even an agenda. There are other complications. Who will be participants? All the parties or, more sensibly, just those who would form an executive? Let’s face it, the issues at stake are between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

The other parties are either not going to be eligible to have seats on an Executive or are going into opposition. So what would they be doing frustrating negotiations for an agreement they’re not going to operate? Muddying the waters, that’s all. In the Haass talks, the Stormont House and Fresh Start talks (which remember, both the UUP and SDLP repudiated) the small parties did their negotiating in front of cameras and leaked like sieves.

These are just a few of the considerations that guarantee zilch in three weeks. We haven’t even considered the role of the lame duck Irish government, which has stood by since 2012 content that the British make matters as difficult as possible for the Irish government parties’ enemies in the Dáil, Sinn Féin.

There’ll be a new Taoiseach by May and a long overdue generational change—no not in Sinn Féin, in Fine Gael— for when Kenny goes so will Michael Noonan and Charlie Flanagan and their cronies.

Not a great time for Sinn Féin to agree on nything.