It's been twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement. It's been a year since power sharing collapsed. Now, there's a new Northern Ireland Secretary. So what happens next?by Andrew McQuillan / January 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
2018 is yet another year of significant anniversaries in Northern Ireland. It is twenty years since the tentative hope of the Good Friday Agreement. It is one year since the institutions it set up collapsed amid the fallout of the Renewable Heating Initiative farce.
“Cash for ash” has come to symbolise the drift from the high-minded optimism of 1998, representing the very worst of the pork barrel politics local politicians have indulged in since the DUP and Sinn Féin rebooted devolution at St Andrews in 2006.
Given the devolution settlement was markedly less ambitious than those in Scotland and Wales, the potential for the Assembly and Executive to slip into lazy redistribution was always there. Indeed, to expect anything else was wishful thinking. Making the Agreement work in the context of a mandatory coalition relied heavily on the assumption local politicians and voters would be able to eventually move beyond the enmity of the past and agree on cohesive policy options. This has proven unworkable; elections to Stormont became another head-counting exercise between unionists and nationalists.
Since the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness, any pretence at moderation has been jettisoned. The inherent risk of placing the future of Northern Ireland’s institutions in the hands of two parties who had originally expressed at best agnosticism, at worst outright hostility, towards them has come to pass. Now, we are left with, on the one hand, the DUP’s repeated demands for direct rule, and on the other, Sinn Féin’s hope that Brexit and the absence of devolution will pave the road towards Dublin involvement and, eventually, unification.
In the febrile aftermath of last January’s collapse, voters have flocked to both parties at subsequent elections. The perennial appeal of not giving an inch in Northern Irish politics has never been more in vogue. Though the absence of functioning local government has contributed to a slew of concerning stories about public services adorning the front pages of the local press, these results, at least, suggest the populace seems relatively untroubled. This, more than most, acts as an indication of the failure of devolution to make its mark as something worth saving.
In the absence of any resolution to the past, devolved government became another front on…