Groundhog Day

By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)

Sixteen days to go to Christmas. Martin McGuinness has promised “serious consequences” and “a full-blown crisis” if a date for devolving policing and justice powers to the north is not agreed before Christmas and it won’t be. Peter Robinson made it dear on The Politics Show on Sunday that he has no intention of honouring the St Andrews Agreement in letter or spirit in the foreseeable future.

McGuinness can’t back down now and meekly return to Stormont in January with no progress on the issue which has produced an impasse at Stormont. His credibility would be totally shot. So there’ll be an election in the new year then? Well, we know there’ll be a Westminster general election, probably on May 6 but there’s no guarantee of an assembly election. What would be the point? Think about it. The executive collapses because Robinson can’t deliver on his party’s commitments at St Andrews. During the election campaign for a new assembly the DUP dinosaurs, to whom Robinson has capitulated, harden up the party’s resistance to change. You’ve heard the sort of stuff the party’s soi-disent statistical genius and economic guru Gregory Campbell comes out with - no devolution in a lifetime or several lifetimes. Free rein for Depooty Dawds to list the St Andrews measures the DUP have blocked.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein up the ante setting down deadlines before they’ll agree to an executive and demanding equality of status for nationalists.

In other words it’s an election to a position more solidified than we have at present. The outcome of such an election would set us back further than we are today. It’s no good saying the outcome would leave Sinn Fein as the largest party and Martin McGuinness in line to be first minister. A DUP leader accepting deputy first minister is as likely as Katie Price winning the Nobel Prize for Physics. During an election campaign both SF and the DUP would have talked themselves into a position where neither could go into an executive. So it would bean election to nothing.

Ah yes, you say, but there is a timetable laid down for an election in the event of the executive collapsing. True, but it’Il beset aside. Sinn Fein insisted that the suspension powers Peter Mandelson brought in during his disastrous tenure as proconsul be repealed and they were. Don’t worry. It would only take two days to bring them back. The parliamentary draughtsmen wouldn’t need to do more than change the date.

No, the truth is that you’re looking at another period of talks. Maybe even (can you bear it?) ‘talks about talks’. The two parties aren’t going to agree to anything before the Westminster election because they’d be daft to do so.The result could be a hung parliament. Wouldn’t SF look sick having agreed tos ome deal the DUP could trash by agreeing to support the Tories in a vote lor fox-hunting or something else really essential to the well-being of Ireland?

On the other hand the DUP could take a real pasting in a general election and lose out to both Jim Allister’s cavemen and the ridiculously named UCUNF. In that event SF would look sick having signed up to a deal with a badly weakened DUP maybe with a new leader because losing North Antrim to Allister and a couple of other seats to UCUNF would be curtains for weak-as-water Robinson. So if McGuinness pulls the plug what follows is a period in the wilderness for the assembly members, hopefully unpaid this time. Then following the Westminster election in May talks begin and after the marching season (it’s Groundhog Day isn’t it?) an election to a new assembly. When would that be? September 2010, or would talks drag on until the next assembly election is due in 20 II? In the meantime, with politics in suspension there’s one outcome you can predict with certainty. The Real IRA and the alphabet soup of other IRAs will increase their activity. After all, thanks to Peter Robinson there’s no-one in Sinn Fein who would be able to tell the dissidents that politics work. SF have done everything asked of them but still unionists won’t treat them as equals.

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