By Brian Feeney (for Irish News)
Let’s make a couple of points clear because the media commentary in the last few days has been couched within the parameters set out by the NIO, by wishful thinking and by hand wringing from bleeding heart getalongers, the so-called ‘middle ground’ which doesn’t amount to a hill of beans north and west of Royal Avenue.
First, Arlene Foster recusing herself from nomination for the post of first minister doesn’t mean an executive automatically follows. So all the talk about her settling for another ministry and nominating another DUP MLA is hot air.
There are many items other than the identity of first minister to be settled before an executive is established. As Gerry Adams said on Monday, ‘it can’t be business as usual.’ As Michelle O’Neill repeated ad nauseam during the campaign: ‘There can be no return to the status quo.’
Secondly, contrary to what Charlie Flanagan, the current proconsul and much of the media insist, there’s no pressure on Sinn Fein to restore devolved government.
The fact is that a mighty cheer went up from many in the nationalist community when Sinn Fein pulled the plug in December. Indeed, so great was the disenchantment with Stormont that Sinn Fein were almost too late walking away because their voters were walking away from them.
Third, many people will claim on the basis of no evidence at all that the decline in the nationalist vote in the last couple of elections was because nationalists were broadly satisfied with devolved government.
On the contrary, far from it: there was growing despondency, apathy and in some quarters anger because the Good Friday institutions had failed to deliver. Stormont in particular but the all-Ireland bodies and North-South Ministerial Council, all emasculated by the DUP veto and not a cheep from Sinn Fein.
That’s why nationalists came out in such numbers, not, repeat not, for Sinn Fein to go back into the same arrangement with a different DUP first minister.
Sinn Fein know perfectly well, because they heard it from their members, supporters and on the doorsteps that there was massive support for withdrawing from the institutions and furthermore that they’d better not think of going back in minus a radical overhaul including changing the title to Joint First Minister. No more Mr Nice Guy.
The belief was that Sinn Fein had for too long been played for eejits in the one way traffic at Stormont.
Thanks to Arlene Foster’s imperious, insufferable folie de grandeur and the heaven sent Liofa gift from Mr Petty, Paul Givan, Sinn Fein could walk away basking in the warm sun of justice, equality, integrity and all the rest supplied by the heat from the RHI scandal.
The media’s faux urgency about establishing an executive ignores the indisputable fact that deals Sinn Fein struck going back over ten years have not been honoured.
They and their voters want to see what arrangements have been made for those matters agreed at St Andrews, Stormont House and Fresh Start to be implemented. Nothing less than a calendar of operations will do and as that calendar’s dates are ticked off Sinn Fein can reciprocate: not before.
The NIO and DUP must jump first because their bona fide stinks.
Gerry Adams and his inner circle know perfectly well that they won’t get away with accepting another set of agreements due to take place after various committees have made proposals. Remember all the committees and ‘bodies’ set up by Fresh Start? Flags, emblems, parades, paramilitaries? Any results?
Now the British have starting sidling away from the agreement on the past in Stormont House aided but not ably abetted by Theresa May’s glove puppet at Stormont.
Again Adams was absolutely correct on Monday pointing out that the proconsul’s remarks disqualify him as a person pretending to act as any sort of honest broker. As Adams said: ‘He’s a player.’
Therefore settle yourself down to months of wrangling with a new Taoiseach in May and Charlie Flanagan gone and then the marching season with a pause in talks in the summer. The last couple of sessions in 2015 and 2016 took about three months and as we see, produced nothing concrete.
Lessons have been learned.