NIO must wake up to most serious political crisis for over a decade

Posted By: April 05, 2017

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said he would move legislation to restore the devolved institutions if there was a successful conclusion to the talks.

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We’re in the midst of the most serious political crisis for more than a decade, a position the two governments, but particularly the [Northern Ireland Office] NIO, have failed to acknowledge publicly or act upon with any degree of commitment or urgency.

In their paper circulated privately to parties at the weekend, Dublin and London for the first time admitted the size of the problem when they agreed: “All the institutions under the [Good Friday] Agreement are now at risk.”

So the NIO has finally accepted a shared approach to the talks. It might seem that’s an advance given that until now the NIO has been holding the Irish government at arm’s length saying the stability of institutions in The North “is the responsibility of the UK government.”

In practice, it isn’t because the basis for this “restructured’ set of talks is even more flawed than the shambles our proconsul [Secretary of State Brokenshire] watched collapse. It appears that the plan is to separate the talks into two ‘baskets,” one concerning the establishment of an executive, the NIO’s priority, and the second concerning Sinn Féin’s grievances which were the reason the whole edifice fell apart in January. This plan is unbelievably stupid even by the standards of the NIO.

First, Sinn Féin can’t and won’t set up an Executive until its grievances are addressed. The party made it crystal clear in the election campaign that it will not be “business as usual.” The behavior of the DUP in an executive is one of their main grievances. There is no indication that the DUP would do anything other than continue to block legislation on matters important to Sinn Féin and their voters who constitute 70 per cent of Northern Nationalists.

Secondly, relegating Sinn Féin’s grievances to another “basket” is precisely why Sinn Féin walked away from Stormont. For ten years most of what they want addressed has been kicked down the road or pushed further down the plug hole. Talking about some resolution of these matters after an executive is established guarantees another unacceptable delay in implementation, the exact opposite of what Sinn Féin requires.

However, that is obviously what the NIO intends. Their proposal for dealing with the past is outrageous. It’s a review body to look at the Stormont House Agreement of 2015 followed by, wait for it, a public consultation. That inevitably means maybe 2019 before the issue is dealt with, maybe not then.

It beggars belief anyone is seriously presenting such a scenario. The Stormont House Agreement in the past was a compromise by Sinn Féin. The British government reneged on it. They are in effect proposing a rerun of Stormont House plus an unknown delay period. Do they not know that Eames-Bradley the NIO binned in 2009 came after the public consultation? Now the NIO aim for Sinn Féin to compromise on their 2014 compromise.

Meanwhile, our proconsul and his DUP mates refuse to finance the proposal from the Lord Chief Justice to expedite inquests many of which have been in limbo for forty years. That is a separate issue from Stormont House, but the DUP obviously have a veto on any progress. If you need any evidence of the unsuitability of our proconsul to chair talks there you have it, never mind his idiotic article in the Sunday Telegraph in January.

It’s a mess which cannot be resolved by Easter, maybe even Easter 2018. The breathtakingly inept approach of the proconsul is bound to continue with him talking nonsense about talks being “so advanced” that an independent chair couldn’t catch up. How would he know? He’s clearly been at different talks from the parties who all agree that whatever he was doing he is responsible for being a spectator at a shambles.

Here’s the final point about the stupid plan. Since 1997, it has been an article of faith among parties here that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’: it will be no different this time. Therefore, even if Sinn Féin were inveigled into an Executive, which they won’t be, it wouldn’t be set up until the second so-called “basket” is dealt with and as you can see they won’t be either since the legacy proposals are an insulting non-starter which the DUP could have drafted. Maybe they did?