Friday, 15 August 2008

Adams warns of collapse of power-sharing (again)

Sinn Féin have been flagging up for months how unhappy they are with the current political situation. The original ‘guideline’ date for the devolution of policing and justice was way back in May. An Irish Language Act seems unlikely in the near future either. There was some optimism when the party and the DUP announced that they had agreed on one the concept of one Justice Department and a non DUP or SF Minister. However, the issue is a long way from resolution. Alliance ruled out the idea of taking the Ministerial post in any new Department and the other parties soon start quibbling about whether there could be more that 10 Departments and whether under d’Hondt it was the SDLP’s ‘turn’.

It may be that Sinn Féin has been more uneasy by the announcement that the International Monitoring Commission is to report in September on the status on the IRA’s Army Council. Should it report the Army Council’s continued existence, in the eyes of the DUP, this would rule out movement on policing and justice for the foreseeable future. The DUP would certainly not want to see anything happen this side of the European elections, if there is no movement on this come September.

The accepted wisdom appears to be that Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin need to appear to be ‘delivering’ something if they are to keep their supporters contented. In the meantime, the party continues to block ‘normal’ business at Executive level and Gerry Adams says that the British and Irish governments must introduce new arrangements, if power-sharing at Stormont fails. Unfortunately for Mr Adams, the Irish Government is more concerned about its economy and the Lisbon Treaty than ‘the North’ these days. Gordon Brown and Labour’s problems are too many to mention but suffice to say Northern Ireland isn’t anywhere near the top of their concerns either.

With the two government’s attention elsewhere and the DUP in no hurry to move, the stalemate looks set to continue. Sinn Féin’s options, beyond bringing the whole carefully constructed edifice down (the ‘mutually assured destruction’ option), seem very limited.
With another Westminster by-election pending and Gordon Brown’s grip on power looking more tenuous by the day, Sinn Féin strategists will surely be thinking about a 2009 General Election and whether an incoming Conservative administration would be any more receptive to their concerns than the present one.

UUP/Conservative merger under attack

The DUP thinks it has discovered a way to discomfort the Ulster Unionists about the current merger talks with the Conservatives. They have discovered a quote on the Conservative’s Northern Ireland website describing the Orange Order as a "backward-facing, history - obsessed, parish pump society". Despite clearly being a personal opinion, rather than an official position, the DUP have issued three press releases this week in a clear attempt to keep the story in the news.
The Conservatives and Ulster Unionists reacted fairly dismissively about the story. David McNarry, the UUP MLA for Strangford, and the UUP Chief Whip at Stormont, broke ranks and sided with the DUP and demanded an apology from the Conservatives. Demanding things via the media is of course largely guaranteed not to get you what you want – but it will get you publicity.

Northern Ireland Office to be abolished?

It was a quiet week for news so it was no surprise that the story that Gordon Brown might be considering merging the NIO with the Welsh and Scottish Offices was trotted out again. If there is any truth in the story, it is unlikely to give Gerry Adams and his party any hope that Northern Ireland is a core concern of the present Labour administration.

Iris Robinson’s psychiatrist quits

The psychiatrist who DUP MP Iris Robinson claimed could “cure” homosexuals has resigned from her employment. Dr Paul Miller, a part-time adviser to the Strangford MP and MLA, has decided he can no longer work for her after her controversial comments about gay people.

The Sinn Fein Factor

Tonight in West Belfast’s Felons Club, Sinn Fein members, and local republicans will hold an X-Factor style talent competition. For anyone in attendance, look out for Sue Ramsey’s version of ‘Baby Spice.’

Omagh Remembered

It is ten years to the day since the bombing of Omagh. The narrow street containing a former coffee shop this commentator used to frequent, a car accessory/model shop with that distinctive smell of epoxy resin glue, a clothes shop owned by a family whose sons he went to school with and Nichol and Shiels where his mother used to buy all our towels and duvet covers – all destroyed along with 31 lives.

The injured and the relatives still struggle to come to terms with the attack and as yet nobody has been convicted in relation to the bombing. This week the Chief Constable, Hugh Order admitted in was highly unlikely that anyone ever would be.