Monday, 11 January 2010

We’re all doomed (again)

THE week just gone has seen unprecedented political events in Northern Ireland – UDA decommissioning their armaments, a cancelled Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle, rows in education, the nearing conclusion of the SDLP leadership race…oh and a certain Spotlight investigation too!

The ramifications of the BBC current affairs show will reverberate for some time to come, with the implications being at the forefront of all our politicians' thinking as election time draws ever closer.

The Westminster poll will be a hard test for all concerned, particularly for the largest party in the Executive.

For the DUP, the Robinsongate affair is something they wish could be locked up in the closet, but now it is out and the latest set of allegations splashed across the Sunday newspapers, the pressure will now doubt grow by the day.

By the time you read this, it is impossible to predict what the situation will be. Between the time fingers were first put to keyboard and editing, Iris Robinson had been sacked by the DUP and she had announced that she was quitting Westminster and Stormont in the coming week. And, it emerged that Sinn Féin Chief Whip Carál NíChuilín has put an emergency motion to the Speaker calling on the First Minister to make a statement today at the Assembly’s first plenary session of 2010.

The words that were whispered softly not too long ago – collapse, direct rule, joint north south authority – are now being aired like a dirty secret that was kept from the voters, lest they panic like an unfettered horse on a riverside bridle path.

Robinsongate aside, the elephant in the room is policing and justice. The likelihood of devolving policing and justice any time soon has become as distant as the possibility of Peter Robinson having a quiet relaxing week.

So where does this leave the Assembly? Teetering ever closer to the brink of collapse? Ever more riven with division? Lacking leadership? Or just plain messed up, as usual?

What if Robinson resigns? Will Sinn Féin renominate Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister or force an Assembly election?

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward is sounding ever more desperate as the days go by. Why? Well he clearly wants the Assembly to last until he can be shot of the entire thing and quit – if he holds his seat – and enjoy a nice easy time on the backbenches. Instead, he faces the prospect of becoming another 'direct rule' Secretary of State, leading a ministerial team tasked with running of Northern Ireland and convening a round of inter-party talks somewhere well away from Northern Ireland.

One possible way out is for the Executive to get around the table and agree that they’ll never agree for the foreseeable future. The next Assembly election would then be set to coincide with the Westminster poll. We can all sit back and errr... enjoy five months or so of politicians slagging each other under the pretext of electioneering.

That way they can all vent their spleen and come back to their seats spent of invective and ready to behave like rational adults.

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