All is not well at Stormont

By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

The £6 million for Irish language broadcasting is the clearest signal yet that all is not well with the power-sharing arrangements at Stormont.

It’s an ominous sign when the British government has to reach in over the heads of the executive to ensure a part of the Good Friday Agreement is honoured.

There is a requirement in strand three of the agreement for the British government to promote the Irish language and to “seek more effective ways to encourage and provide financial support for Irish language, film and television production” in the north.

However, strand three also expresses the pious hope that “this commitment will be sustained by a new assembly in a way which takes account of the desires and sensitivities of the community”.

Obviously DUP ministers are too hostile to all things Irish to carry forward “this commitment”.

Since there is no prospect of the present assembly living up to its responsibilities because there will only be DUP culture ministers - an oxymoron if ever there was one - the British government has to make up the shortfall.

Let’s hope the £6 million comes out of the north’s block grant next year. Gordon Brown is parsimonious enough to do it - if he’s still prime minister.

Still, the £6 million is a personal victory for Gerry Adams. Now at least we know one of the concessions he won at Downing Street that permitted him to let Peter Robinson be nominated first minister.

The £6 million is also a warning to Robinson, for the buck stops with him. After all, it was he who appointed Gregory Campbell, the most laughable excuse for a culture minister, an appointment which in the context of the north’s divisions is like putting King Herod in charge of an orphanage.

In general, sectarian anti-Irish behaviour is to be expected from the DUP. As The Guardian pointed out after its MPs supported Brown’s 42-day detention law, the DUP is Westminster’s “most reactionary faction”.

What is different since Robinson became leader is that individuals in the party who wouldn’t say ‘boo’ when Paisley was around now feel they can snipe at Sinn Féin and deride the cultural and political aspirations of a nationalist community they are supposed to be treating as equals.

Either Robinson does not carry the clout of Paisley or perhaps he approves of the sort of statements political nonentities like Nelson McCausland and David Simpson have been releasing in the past month.

The £6 million is a clear signal to Robinson that he better act as if he is master in his own house because if he doesn’t, the British government will step in.

In the end, cultural issues may be a litmus test to expose the attitude of DUP bigots but they are not the most critical issues for Robinson’s stewardship. On the vexed matter of policing and justice, there is a way around the DUP refusal to countenance its devolution.

The British government stepping in is one matter; the involvement of the Irish government is quite another. That’s why Robinson had to object to the presence of Micheal Martin, the Irish foreign affairs minister, at Downing Street even though he knew full well Martin would be there.

Looming before Robinson, if he can’t manage his backwoodsmen, is the prospect of a mini-plan B which Paisley claimed concerned him so much he had to deal with Sinn Féin. It is for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIC) to run policing and justice jointly until the DUP agrees to devolve the powers.

The BIIC runs strand three, including matters like rights, safeguards and equality. Also - listen up DUP - it deals with “all matters within the competence of both governments”.

That includes policing and justice. The BIIC is advised by ‘police and security advisers’ who attend as appropriate. The BIIC, wait for it, “will also address, in particular, the areas of rights, justice, prisons and policing in Northern Ireland (unless and until responsibility is devolved to a Northern Ireland administration) and will intensify cooperation between the two governments on the all-island or cross-border aspects of these matters”.

The message of the £6 million is obvious. Robinson can toe the line or the two governments will step up to the mark.

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