Northern Ireland has reached a political impasse, but now one man is calling the shotsby Ruth Dudley Edwards / March 30, 2017 / Leave a comment
“We can’t be arsed with another election,” was a headline on the satirical website Ulster Fry after the talks on restoring the Northern Ireland executive broke down. “Now sort it out you ballbags, everyone tells MLAs [members of the legislative assembly].”
Or, as Secretary of State James Brokenshire put it rather more sedately, there is “no appetite for another election.”
That is probably an accurate reflection of how most people feel in Northern Ireland, even if they don’t agree on why there’s a political impasse. Is it republican aggression, unionist arrogance, British neglect or all three? The proximate cause, though, was Martin McGuinness leaving the building.
If any non-IRA supporter is feeling as sentimental about McGuinness as was Bill Clinton when he spoke at his funeral, they should remember that from 1970 until 1997 he was a serial killer: apart from the murders he committed personally, he authorised the shooting and blowing up of many many hundreds.
However, having for pragmatic reasons decided to make power-sharing work, from 2007 McGuinness as deputy first minister employed his intelligence and social skills to keep the show on the road. When he became too ill to go on, he and Adams decided he should pull down the executive so as to force an ethnic drum-beating election: this revitalised disgruntled republican grassroots, narrowed the electoral gap between the DUP and Sinn Fein and brought about a stalemate in talks about reinstating the executive.
In essence, Sinn Fein want concessions on several fronts, including the stepping down of Arlene Foster during the inquiry into the expensive farce of the mismanaged Renewable Heat Initiative, an Irish language act, and what are described euphemistically as legacy issues, while the DUP want the status quo and the British and Irish governments want them all to stop arguing, agree a programme for government and get on with implementing it, while the grown-ups seek to persuade the EU to cooperate in making Brexit work to the advantage of the whole island of Ireland.
Ninety MLAs were elected, but with 28 and 27 seats respectively, only the DUP and Sinn Fein mattered and all other parties were essentially excluded from the shambolic and doomed discussions. Under the rules of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, if after an election negotiations are…