Posted By: July 04, 2014

“So it is long past time that so many of our politicians stopped acting so coyly. That particularly goes for the two governments [London and Dublin].”

Denis Bradley. Irish News ( Belfast). Friday, July 4, 2014
IT is times like this that we miss John Hume. We miss him to tell us for the umpteenth time that the Good Friday/ Belfast Agreement is not an internal settlement. Hume never said anything just once. He believed that things had to be said over and over again until they became part of received wisdom. He would have said that the agreement is not a deal between the Northern Ireland parties. It doesn’t just involve those of us who live here. It also involves the people of Ireland and Britain.If that part of the agreement that mandates the local political parties to do their job falls apart then the two governments, who represent the vast majority of the signatories, have agreed that they will keep the agreement extant.So it is long past time that so many of our politicians stopped acting so coyly. That particularly goes for the two governments. The talks about the unresolved issues of the past, flags and parades didn’t even last into the second day. Long before the unionist parties naively walked out (and come September will have to find a way to get back into the room) there had been lots of disagreement about who should be in the room in the first place.Should it just be our local politicians or should it also include the governments? The truth is that all the shenanigans about who should be in the room is becoming childish. Whether the government representatives sit outside the door or at the back of the room or on their hands pretending they are not there doesn’t change the reality that it is they who are running the table.In this instance it is the British who control the table and have the greater amount of skin in the game. The Irish are somewhat subservient and mostly reduced to diplomatic interventions while always having a few aces in their back pocket. One of those aces is their access and influence with the American government, something that Hume spent most of his political life bringing about. In the relatively short history of our peace process, the role of the Americans has been to bend a few arms up backs at crunch moments and to knock government heads together when they have been drifting too far apart. The Americans can and do claim to have a bit of skin in this game too. A little bird is telling me that they are worried at the state of the peace and perplexed at the apathy of the British. Most of the matters that were to be discussed during the six or so days are presently under the control of the British government. The British have devolved powers and monies to Stormont but most of the contentious issues that are still being argued and fought over are controlled by the government. If, by any chance, there were an agreement reached, it would have to go to Westminster and a lesser amount to the Dail to get the legislation to make it happen. And you don’t have to be a political genius to work out that it will be the governments who pay for most of whatever agreement is made.

So the truth of the matter is that the two governments could go ahead at any time and draw up an agreement about most of the difficult issues that have been dominating our lives for years. It would be up to the local parties to get on board or go and huff in the corner. Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have enough seats to pull down the executive and trigger an election but since Sinn Fein are in love with Stormont and want any roadblocks removed and the DUP are worried of losing seats at consecutive elections, the most negative outcome would be a short period of petulant protest.

So the streets are going to be our political forum for the next two months. We can only hope that the passion for violence and mayhem have somewhat dissipated with time.

But whatever happens during the summer there will be a return to the room and the issues that have yet to be solved. Perhaps by September, when normal politics resumes, there will be a greater understanding by all the politicians and most especially by the two (three) governments that the agreement reached 16 years ago was not some little pact between the warring groups in the north.