Monday, 1 February 2010

Parading and deals

WHILE party leaders and chief negotiators have been huddled together in Hillsborough, one has to wonder whether they have been paying attention to the ‘rest of the news’.

Already the talking has caused Assembly Committee meetings to be halted, and plenary sessions of the Assembly to be sparsely attended on such issues as special educational needs of children.

And, there have been a raft of job losses and factory closures.

As the DUP and Sinn Féin posture and pontificate, could they spare the time to explain to a parent of a child with severe autism, or a skilled worker made redundant what was the point of putting Northern Ireland into political hiatus?

Parades affect a few thousand people at most over a couple of weeks in the summer when the rest of the populace heads for sunnier climes or Donegal. And any Minister of Policing and Justice will have policing powers that amount to not much more than those of the Policing Board and DPPs – where politicians of all hues already sit.

In other words, what’s the point?

Only a cynic would suggest that it’s about covering electoral posteriors.

And right now in Northern Ireland there seems to be a growing number of cynics amongst the health care workers, struggling classroom teachers, those signing on the dole and the parent wondering whether their child will ever get the service they are entitled to.

Getting it together

IT would of course be nice to say that with sex scandals and alleged corruption, mainstream politics has finally reached Northern Ireland. And such was the promise when the Tories agreed to hook up with their Ulster Unionist colleagues.

No, we’re not suggesting that the Conservatives or UUP are involved in sex scandals or allegations of corruption! Rather, that the electorate in Northern Ireland have the potential opportunity to vote for representatives of a party that stands a chance of being part of a UK governing party, or at least part of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Some local Conservatives have become irked and annoyed by the Ulster Unionist leadership of late.

With three Conservative nominees for the UCUNF candidates list in the forthcoming Westminster election tendering their resignations and reports of the UU leadership joining the DUP for a natter with the Orange Order, relations between the two parties have become increasingly strained.

Can we suggest that if UCUNF decide to elect a leader, they seek a unifying candidate? What about ‘Flash’ Harry Hamilton? He could urge the Ulster Unionists to ‘Play the Game’. And when they do, he can declare ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’.

Watching from the wings

LIKE a brooding presence, former MEP Jim Allister and his TUV cohorts will try to use any political deal here as a means of attacking the DUP in the upcoming general election. In a weird logic game, Jim Allister said that even if his party win no seats it won’t affect its strength as a political force.

Furthermore, Mr Allister likes to remind us that even though he lost his European Parliament seat, the TUV were the real winners in the Euro election.

You don’t need to be statistician, mathematician or political scientist to come to the conclusion is that if you don’t ‘win’ any seats, then you haven’t ‘won’ the election. Just wanted to be clear on that…

The Waiting Game

ONE of the advantages of writing articles for email and internet columns is that it is not driven by deadlines. No need for an on-the-spot analysis for the 6.30 news, no need to guess outcomes before the presses roll, and no need to try to interpret mood music.

Instead, as we trundle through talks about talks on the devolution of policing and justice, one can wait to see whether the mythical ‘deal’ can be struck.

And wait. And wait. And wait.

Throughout these past several days we’ve waited.

There have been swings of optimism, there have been prime ministers, and there has been the constant presence of deal cheerleader-in-chief Shaun Woodward. There have been harbingers of sorrow and smiling faces all round; depending on the time of day, the quality of lunch… or hunger pangs through late night sessions.

When initial talks on Monday of last week collapsed with nary a deal in sight, Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen flew in like erstwhile heroes of old, (Blair and co) ready to bang some heads together, cosy up to fragile egos and try to find that perpetual sweet saviour of democracy, fudge.

After two days and nights, Gordon headed off to try and sort out an easier task, Afghanistan, and Brian to tackle the mere ticking irritation of a ruined economy.

But, with barely suppressed irritation, the premiers said sort it out in 48 hours or we’ll publish our proposals.

Come Thursday happy faces. Come Friday gloomy faces.

And we waited.

Deal – everybody’s happy? No deal the twitterers and bloggers announced.

Come Saturday we we’re still waiting.

But as snow flurries flicked the lens of waiting cameras outside Hillsborough Castle dusk brought another change of soundbite tone.

Now the DUP, through Edwin Poots were saying there had been ‘advancement’ and Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said he and his party colleagues were ‘optimistic.’

But the biggest sign of progress was that Shaun Woodward had moved from cheerleader to the tone of a cautious coach for a team heading inexorably towards league victory. He said there was still ‘work to be done’, as all good coaches say when their team needs to dampen down hyperbole and focus on the oft-quoted ‘task at hand’.

So, what can we expect come the start of a new week in the devolution waiting game.

The parties speak to their Assembly groupings, get a cautious thumbs up and proceed to Hillsborough for a nice meal and the final dotting of the ‘Is’ and crossing of the ‘Ts’?

A weekend of reflection makes all the parties realise that the food is quite nice in Hillsborough Castle and maybe they could string it out for another few days to sample more fine cuisine?

It all goes to hell in a hand basket again; Gordon washes his hands of the lot of them malingering MLAs and we get an Assembly election that no-one wants, needs or at very least can delay until the Westminster poll date in May?

Which, of course is an election that will be described by some as a referendum on the deal on the devolution of policing and justice, but all concerned may wish that it wasn’t.

Reading the runes from elections past and present is a risky game trying to make predictions, especially when the vast majority of the electorate, apart from the people who ring into morning talkshows, are thoroughly bored with what passes for politics here.