The “constructive ambiguity” of 1998 has morphed into destructive clarity. So why will nobody in Westminster—or Stormont—do anything about it?by Alex Kane / July 18, 2018 / Leave a comment
On May 8, 2007 the British media, and Westminster, lost interest in Northern Ireland. That was the day when Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sealed an extraordinary power-sharing deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin and agreed to serve together as First and deputy First Minister and co-chairs of a new Executive.
The British, Irish and US governments heaved a sigh of relief, convinced that, at last, the Good Friday Agreement was about to deliver stability, genuine cooperation and a “new way of doing politics between old enemies.”
Today there is no Executive and no Assembly. There hasn’t been for 18 months. The last political act of the late Martin McGuinness was a resignation letter in January 2017, in which he accused the DUP of never fully embracing the “equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement,” accusing them of showing “a shameful disrespect” towards members of the Nationalist community.
The letter confirmed what some of us had been saying for some time; namely, the DUP-Sinn Féin relationship had been built on a self-serving pretence. It was never about a new-era Northern Ireland; it was always a numbers game in which both parties promoted the contradictory interests and agendas of their own sides.
Successive British governments were aware of this. They were aware that instead of any new, bold architecture indicating a post-conflict society, all we’d seen was some half-hearted repointing of the “dreary old steeples.” They were aware that the electoral centre had been squashed by the ongoing rise of the two main parties, whose combined vote share increased from 34 per cent in 1998 to 66 per cent in 2017. They knew that Northern Ireland was almost as much a ‘place apart’ as it was when the phrase was first coined in 1978. They were aware that key decisions on big-ticket issues like legacy, integration and culture, were still being fudged—or ignored altogether.
They were aware, yet at no point did they make any effort to knock heads together; opting instead to throw more money into the pot, constantly pampering self-important local leaders and continuing with the delusion that “this project is too big to be allowed to fail.”