London’s Woman in Belfast

Posted By: October 02, 2013

Brian Feeney gives his critique of the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, October 2, 2013 Who do you believe? 
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly told the BBC that the power-sharing executive at Stormont is in crisis, that the relationship between Martin McGuinness and Peter robinson is ‘unworkmanlike’.
In plain English it’s not working. David Cameron told the BBC on Friday that there is no crisis. Our clueless proconsul in a reverential powder-puff interview with the BBC on Sunday was allowed to dodge the question, only conceding there are “difficulties”.
That’s putting it mildly. Martin McGuinness has retaliated for robinson’s dishonouring the Long Kesh Maze agreement by scuppering anything else on the site. At tomorrow’s Stormont executive meeting there’s apparently no substantive item on the agenda. At last week’s meeting there was none. David Ford said that the situation could not continue: “People in Northern Ireland will be quite surprised that after such a long gap between meetings there was very little business to be transacted.”
We know there’s not enough business to keep the assembly active for two days a week. It would be tedious to rehearse the list of blocked bills and decisions deadlocking the executive. Taxed with this stalemate our proconsul again dodged the issue.
She claimed it was because of normal difficulties in a “mandatory five-party coalition”, which she must know Stormont is not. The Stormont executive is devised to ensure the two communities share power in a similar way that Belgian governments work or often don’t. If she doesn’t know then she shouldn’t be in her job. If she does know and refuses to admit the truth accepted by political scientists around the world that there’s an ethno-political dispute at the heart of the north’s problems then she’s deceiving people here and in Britain.
She claimed there “is work going on” but if you listen carefully you’ll find that she was referring to meetings she had with ‘Peter and Martin’, not the executive. She waffled on about the G8 meeting. Indeed she can hardly utter a sentence without mentioning it and a fat lot of good it did this place. At no point did she answer why she had not intervened in the stand-off between the two main parties here or why it took six months of rioting before the NI Office came up with the plan to bring in Haass. Of course she can’t intervene now because Haass has begun his thankless process, though mind you, she has already put down markers on dealing with the past: no inquiries, no money and special treatment for security force members.
She also asserted that she was optimistic about the outcome of the Haass talks because “Northern Ireland politicians have demonstrated the ability to solve incredibly difficult problems”. What a piece of nonsense.
The exact opposite is the truth. On all “incredibly difficult problems” such as policing, justice, the prosecution service, even the apparatus of power sharing itself, outsiders like Chris Patten have had to be brought in or else the prime minister and taoiseach of the day have had to supervise. On parades, for example, the north’s politicians have demonstated just a couple of years ago that they are completely incompetent and in the case of the DUP completely cowardly about reaching an agreed solution. Unfortunately, all our proconsul’s answers were accepted as tablets of stone recently arrived from Mount Sinai instead of gusts of hot air easily ridiculed with the merest reference to the facts of the last year.
It seems, like other obvious truths, that one central fact has escaped what little grasp she demonstrates about the north. It’s this. Suppose by some miracle Haass does manage to devise an arrangement on flags and parades (even our proconsul admits ‘the past’ has fallen off the bottom of the page), will that make any difference to the evident crisis that Gerry Kelly described at Stormont? Will such an agreement make the DUP more likely to accept they are sharing power with Sinn Fein? Will it even make it more likely that the DUP will actually accept the concept of sharing power with Fenians? On the other hand,  for poor old Sinn Fein the collapse of the Stormont arrangements would be a disaster
with them pushing full steam ahead to have ministers north and south of the
border in 2016.