It is 9am and I am on the Dublin train. When I return this afternoon, Stormont might have fallen. “Fallen” is a dramatic word that conjures up the Fall of Saigon in the 1970s but when the word “drama” and the phrase “on the brink” is used in connexion to Norn Iron, all meaning is lost. Not least because outside the rarified world of politicians, journalists, lobbyists and bloggers, nobody really cares.
We all loved the Peace of the Good Friday Agreement and all rushed to the polling stations to endorse it. But it has all been an anti-climax as stagnation has set in. Nobody makes difficult decisions because the history shows that people who make difficult decisions are electoral losers.
We have the Westminster Village. We have the Washington Beltway but geographically and mentally the Stormont Bubble is the most isolated of all.
The simple fact is that DUP and Sinn Féin play to their core voters and that involves some nasty rhetoric and that makes people vote DUP and Sinn Féin as a form of tribal loyalty. And this makes DUP and Sinn Féin leaders of “their” tribe and the main players in coalition government. They hate each other. And they need each other.
So we go from brink to brink. There is no Budget because DUP, UUP and Alliance…conservative parties …demand “welfare cuts” and the left-leaning Sinn Féin and SDLP are against “cuts”. Sinn Féin dare not say it publicly but they would be delighted if Westtminster simply imposed them. It would have the additional benefit of allowing Sinn Féin to blame the “Brits” which always plays well with a nationalist electorate. I have been blaming the “Brits” for just about everything my entire life and will happily blame the “Brits” for my cremation. I love Resentment.
Two murders within a mile of each other have raised the stakes.
Much is in the Public Domain. Jock Davison is believed to be a key figure in the brawl that led to the stabbing of Robert McCartney ten years ago. Davison was a leading Republican who it is alleged ordered the murder and orchestrated the forensic clean up that the IRA carried out. The murder is one of those incidents of Injustice which has been marginalised for the greater prize of Peace.
Four months ago Davison was himself murdered and all the leading figures in ….ahem…Republicanism …showed up at the funeral …and while their demeanour indicated a degree of discipline and they were uniformly dressed in a non-uniform…and the coffin had the traditional black beret and black gloves on the Irish National Flag….the body language was quite clear to seasoned watchers.
And last month Kevin McGuigan was shot dead, a murder that had all the hallmarks of an IRA killing. It is alleged that McGuigan was shot in revenge for Davison and the PSNI have stated the IRA were involved.
This is something on which the DUP and UUP had to act. The IRA is not supposed to exist and whether DUP or UUP would thank the PSNI for their candour is a different question. Either way, playing Politics, the smaller UUP claim they have had enough of the farce and head for the Opposition benches. And this pressurises DUP to go beyond “seeking clarity” or accepting the rhetoric that the IRA has “left the stage”….an ambiguous term.
So the British Government wont “suspend” Stormont. Nor will the other parties (keep an eye on Alliance) vote to support a DUP motion to “adjourn” Stormont. This would have the pleasant consequence of limiting scrutiny of a potentially embarrassing scandal for DUP.
Yes there is an aspect of DUP-UUP inter-unionist electioneering but DUP have raised the stakes. If their motion to “adjourn” is defeated, the DUP Ministers resign from the Executive. Stormont falls.
Of course its possible that the British and Irish Governments can cobble some deal together, possibly involving Welfare Cuts…but its hard to see that Sinn Féin will be minded to deal when three prominent Repblicans are held in police custody, being questioned about the McGuigan murder. One of the Republicans is Chair of (northern) Sinn Féin. He even has an office….at Stormont.
Well as always….the British and Irish Governments will convene “talks”. Its the usual next step. And with no Stormont Government, the British aided and abetted by civil servants will administer the Government under Direct Rule.
Will Ministers lose salaries? Will the Party staffs be downsized? Will the constituency offices no longer have the funding to deal with constituents problems….about welfare, health, justice etc.
Those who play up “Civic Society ” talk about an Assembly that is actually broader than Politics (in the Party sense). A kinda undemocratic Vichy type collaboration between the British and local movers and shakers, who will do anything if the price is right.