By Jude Collins (judecollinsjournalist.blogspot.com)
Wee-hooo. There was me, highlighting the cross-border meeting in Limavady, and later in the day there was Martin McGuinness doing a very public parade of his grievances against the DUP generally and Peter Robinson in particular, and all the time even-tighter-than-usual-lipped Peter standing by his side and Brian Cowen kicking the wall in the background.
It wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. The way it was supposed to be was the way it was at the start of the meeting between the three men - all handshakes and chuckles. Then Martin decided to (verbally) empty both barrels into his colleague in government. So why did he do it?
Well, Sinn Fein’s Francie Brolly gave the answer. It’s to do with how long Sinn Fein’s support can go on settling for no signs of real progress. Despite what republicans have conceded -- acceptance of the PSNI, acceptance of eleven rather than seven super-councils, acceptance above all of the principle of consent -- that the north of Ireland will stay a part of the UK until the majority of Nordies decide they want things otherwise. With that growing sense among republicans that they were doing all the giving while the DUP kept backing away from giving, Sinn Fein needed a dramatic sign that they were mad as hell and weren’t going to take it any more. In Limavady, Martin provided that sign.
Will it make any difference? It’s certainly provided an unexpected kick in the pants (or even in the softer parts) not just to Peter but to Brian as well. This was supposed to be a nice distraction from economic meltdown for the Taoiseach - he was to have appeared as the peacemaker, the man working for peace in the north while at the same time showing that Fianna Fail hasn’t forgotten its republican roots, its concern to smooth the road - literally and metaphorically - between north and south. There was nothing in the script about one of the power-sharing parties denouncing his colleague in government as a man given to doing solo runs and showing little sign of honouring the pledges made at St Andrew’s.
So having fired the verbal artillery, will Sinn Fein walk in January, if nothing is delivered? It’s a close call but probably not, because something will be delivered, because nobody really wants a Stormont meltdown. Chances are there will be a deal that’ll save faces all round. Peter won’t give in to anything pre-Christmas but will finally issue a cautious date come, say, mid-January, announcing that the DUP will go with the devolution of policing and justice around, say, Easter or maybe early Summer.
That should postpone the political divorce, although it won’t satisfy everyone. Jim Allister will use any such move to label his former colleagues as traitors to the unionist cause. And a lot of republicans will see devolution of policing and justice, not as a victory for republicanism but another act of betrayal.
Stand by for increased Real IRA activity in 2010.