Friday, 20 May 2011

An invidious position

SINN Féin must have been greatly relieved that the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – or Elizabeth Windsor, if you are from Óglaigh na hÉireann – came after the recent elections.

It has meant that they have not had to face all that awkwardness surrounding the visit of the Queen.

Gerry and his beard have looked particularly uncomfortable; with a sort of ‘not the right time’ and ‘some more apologies from the Brits please’ beginning to sound distinctly churlish in the wake of wall-to-wall coverage.

In fact, some of the coverage passed ‘over-the-top’ on the way to complete and utter overkill.

The media struggled for another commentator to repeat the word ‘historic’ every few seconds of interview time.

Which left the half-hearted dissention of Sinn Féin and the rabid dissidents casting stones and vitriol: and in an ironic twist one of those rabid protestors was wearing the shirt of an English football team…

To a certain extent it was not in Sinn Féin’s interests to make too much of a deal about the Royal visit. Their focus in the Republic is on the economy; and Barack Obama’s advisers look closely at recent statements of political parties before he touches down.

And in Norn Iron Martin McGuinness is shoulder to shoulder with Peter Robinson on their personal agenda of making it all better here in the north.

Obviously Martin couldn’t be seen at the state banquet in Dublin Castle but such is the new found, if tentative, matey-ness of the two that Peter is said to have brought back a wee doggie bag of leftovers for their plotting sessions on the downfall of the UUP and SDLP.

Whether the Queen managed to notice the absence of Sinn Féin at the banquet will remain unknown in line with protocol, but at the Irish National Stud could it have been the case that Sinn Féin like all the other politicians, were waiting for a tip from Her Majesty on the 3.15 race at Chepstow…

Whatever the case, the visit of the Queen leaves Sinn Féin with a dilemma in terms of their public positioning. If they maintain their vocal anti-royalist stance, tying the monarchy into past issues, the public will largely ignore this, or worse still lambast them. If they choose to let the wedding and royal visit furor die down then the hardliners may ask why they have kept relatively quiet.

Whatever the case a wee secret bad part of Gerry and Martin must be hoping for a tabloid royal scandal exposé very soon…

If you’re happy and you know it…

IT’S getting down to business and, in case you doubt it, Peter and Martin are going to tell you that it is so! The new, shiny face of the Norn Iron Executive is that of an executive ready to get down to the hard work of government.

How long the honeymoon period actually lasts is another matter, for as sure as the sun rises and the day darkens at dusk there will be rows and hissy fits.

So in the meantime, there’s a certain sense of knuckling down to the hard tasks. And who said that our ministers must work together? Well it was the electorate according to Peter and Martin.

There was, however, a hint that a window of opportunity exists in the next 18 months or so to get the really awkward decisions taken. Peter did mention that it is three years until the next election.

Compare that to the last two years – a European election, a Westminster election and then May’s double whammy – and it is easy to see that it was difficult to agree on whether the Executive would have tea or coffee let alone agree a budget!

So, with real politics/bread and butter politics [delete as applicable] on the table can we expect all to be sweetness and light? Well, no.

For a start a clear signal has been sent from Minister of Cuts, Sammy Wilson that the hard times are coming down the road. The warnings have been given over the past year and now the stark reality is coming to pass.

Add into that there is the switcherooney planned by the DUP in two years time, with ministers stepping aside for a new tranche of bright-eyed DUP guys.

Translate this simply: the new squad of ministers will not have to bear the blame for the harsh decisions. In two years time, pummelled by cuts and the harsh decisions, the electorate will welcome with open arms the new set of DUP ministers, as they bring light, beneficence and bigger budgets to bear. And, at the same time they can slag off the rest of the Executive.

No doubt their coalition partners, Sinn Féin, will be immune to the battering, but the SDLP and UUP will be firmly in the sights of the DUP ministers. No real change there then!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Welcome back?

IN media circles there was much popping of corks, high fives across newsrooms and celebrations akin to the ending of a long war.

The reason for their success? The election of Mr Jim Allister to the Assembly! It does not matter to the media that Mr Allister’s party was not even close elsewhere in the Assembly elections. It does not matter that Mr Allister was not elected on a wave of popular dissent against the DUP.

What does matter is that they no longer feel awkward about inviting Mr Allister to speak about everything or anything he objected to when he held no democratic mandate.

That of course begs the question as to whether the exposure of Mr Allister in the media in the months leading up to the poll helped or hindered him in the poll. Would another party – let’s say the Green Party, the Worker’s Party or UKIP – have benefitted from similar pre-purdah exposure?

But, Mr Allister now stands as an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly. The media were already hanging on his every utterance as the election of the speaker and his deputies got underway.

As a piece of political theatre it was engrossing, but theatre it was. It added nothing to our understanding of the future path of the individuals, parties or the assembly itself. It did, perhaps, signal to other existing and future MLAs that shouting loudest and stirring an already cooked pot gets the most coverage if not the most progress.