A series of short-sighted decisions means May has (yet again) backed herself into a cornerby Siobhán Fenton / February 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
In Northern Ireland, hope of a power-sharing deal has faded into obscurity and patience is wearing thin among politicians and voters alike.
Northern Ireland has been in limbo since the power-sharing government first collapsed in January 2017. First, the British government called an election to try and break the impasse, only for the electorate to re-elect the same politicians who returned with the same qualms and red lines. A deadline was then set for the parties to reach an agreement to go back into government before direct rule might have to be imposed from London. The deadline duly came and went without progress.
The deadline was extended again, with the same outcome, some 8 or 9 times.
Throughout this time, the British government has maintained that they believe the parties can agree to reach a deal if they hold off implementing direct rule for just a little longer. In the meantime, Northern Ireland has been without a government for 13 months and is instead being run by unelected civil servants who are unaccountable to an electorate. The region’s claims to be a democracy become more and more tenuous with each passing day.
In light of this, the obvious next step would be for the London government to finally make good on its promise to implement direct rule and begin running the region. Such a move would be a certain setback in the peace process and a sign that politics have not normalised to the extent that many would have hoped 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement.
However, it would not be without precedent. On multiple occasions since the Agreement, the London government has stepped into to implement direct rule and provide stability to Northern Ireland at times when the local government has been unable or unwilling to fulfil this role. The last such period of direct rule ran from 2002-2007 under then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Despite this, it appears that the British government is doing everything it can to sidestep this option. This week, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley updated MPs in the House of Commons on the crisis at Stormont, telling them earnestly that she still believed a deal was possible. Her counterpart in the Labour Shadow cabinet Owen Smith dryly congratulated her on what he called “Herculean optimism” for the view. In Northern Ireland, many are…