Sham assembly just like old times

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

Tomorrow’s performance by Blair and Ahern promises to be a perfect example of “the triumph of hope over experience”, Dr Johnson’s description of a man who remarried immediately after the death of a wife with whom he’d been very unhappy.

Or perhaps it’s further evidence that neither of them knows George Santayana’s dictum: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Do you remember them both in December 2004 at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, all dressed up with nowhere to go? Ready to announce the Comprehensive Agreement that Paisley had just scuppered with his ‘sack-cloth and ashes’ speech?

Why did they think the Paisleyites, who had never spoken to anyone in Sinn Féin, were ready to go into an executive with SF?

Why do they think so now?

How can they, after Paisley told us all on Sunday that the idea of establishing an executive is ‘nonsense’?

It’s perfectly obvious that the DUP wants a rerun of the pantomime at the old Co-op building in York Street in 1996, a powerless rant room where unionists can pass resolutions and tell the British government that ‘the people of Ulster’ demand this or that.

It’s also perfectly obvious what the response of SF and the SDLP must be.

When the assembly is recalled in May they must seek to run the d’Hondt process to set up an executive, futile though that exercise will be.

The DUP will refuse to cooperate. After six weeks SF and the SDLP must leave. Then the assembly should collapse. That’s the law.

It won’t however. The British government have decided to change the law.

They propose to give their proconsul for the time being the power to keep the assembly in suspended animation, then re-convene it in the autumn for two more six-week attempts at setting up an executive. All this will be done by order in council at the whim of the proconsul and in the absence of consent from the nationalist community.

Just like old times really.

All this is very dangerous. It is not the Good Friday Agreement nationalists signed up to.

Furthermore, it appears that to mollify the DUP, the assembly will be allowed to convene committees or sit in committee to ‘scrutinise’ proposals of direct-rule ministers.

So far, with the honourable exception of Gerry Kelly, nationalist politicians have not been clear about why they reject the notion of such a sham assembly.

Yes of course it’s because it’s bogus and phoney but it’s worse than that. The reason SF and the SDLP can have nothing to do with it is that it turns the clock back more than 20 years.

The sham assembly that Blair and, to his shame Ahern, propose will once again consign nationalist representatives to a majoritarian forum. Essentially it will be no different from Lisburn council, where unionists decide everything and nationalists are ignored.

The sham assembly is designed to provide unionists with the illusion of power and the delusion of majority rule once again.

It sets aside the elaborate architecture of the Good Friday Agreement which was constructed to ensure that nationalists had an equal role and that nothing contentious could be passed without nationalist consent.

Secondly, the GFA was constructed in such a way that unionists could not have their lollipop, the assembly, without all-Ireland bodies and vice versa.

Blair and Ahern, for all the hypocrisy of making their announcement in Armagh - the location of all-Ireland bodies - are quite happy to permit a sham assembly to please unionists but are fully aware that no assembly members will be participating in any all-Ireland bodies since there will be no executive.

Let’s just hope that there is no equivocation from either SF or the SDLP about their role in what Paisley has derisively called the nonsense plans of Blair and Ahern.

Instead of footering around waiting to see what will happen they should immediately announce they will abstain from all activities of the sham assembly other than those designed to elect an executive and first and deputy first minister.

Once the DUP has demonstrated its refusal to share power there is no function for a nationalist party at Stormont.

Just like old times.

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