Hoist Petards and Paradoxes

It must be confusing, even to those with some knowledge of Northern Ireland politics and especially to the general public in other parts of the UK, to witness the manoeuvring taking place around the proposals for a return to devolved government on 26th March 2007.

The important thing to grasp is that as always the possibility of a breakdown in the process is ever present. Each side is determined to ensure that if this does occur they can blame it on their opponents.

At the same time, Paisley’s DUP, in order to maintain their dominance over their rivals the Ulster Unionist Party, try to appear to have forced the Nationalists and Republicans to surrender to their demands or terms. This also has the purpose to keep their own fractious dissidents on board.

Their attention is also to reinforce and increase their support among the Unionist communities if and when the Assembly election does take place in March. Whether or not they take a decision to join Sinn Féin in the joint Executive before then they hope that their electoral mandate will enable them to dictate its functioning.

The DUP also know that by continuing to raise hurdles against such participation they are contributing to the difficulties within the ranks of Sinn Féin in respect of their leaders participating in the Board of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

David Trimble, while he was First Minister, continually looked over his shoulder at the looming Ian Paisley each time he looked like accepting working in the Executive with the SDLP and Sinn Féin. In an article in the January 2007 edition of the Northern Ireland magazine, ‘Fortnight’ in respect of a meeting in Lurgan Town Hall in late 2006 he describes Ian Paisley as saying: “When you are in opposition you can say anything you like” and going on to explain to the once faithful that things were difficult now.

The chickens have come home to roost now and if I may mix my metaphors, Big Ian is now hoist on his own petard. Over many years, in order to get himself into power, he has fulminated against Nationalists, Republicans, Unionists and others who worked to heal divisions and co-operate in governing Northern Ireland. Now when conditions demand that he should do likewise he finds several of his leading disciples obstructing any movement in that direction.

Sinn Féin’s executive body has decided to enter into consultation with their members prior to an Ard Fheis on 28th January and to recommend that they endorse a decision to join the PSNI Policing Board. If even then Ian Paisley is forced to refuse to serve in the Joint Executive with Sinn Féin (assuming they remain the largest Nationalist party after the election on 7th March) the whole process will collapse.

Twelve dissident DUP Assembly members are supporting a statement signed by four DUP Members of Parliament, Nigel Dodds, the Reverend William McCrea, Gregory Campbell, and David Simpson. It is set out below:

“Given the total lack of movement on behalf of Sinn Féin on the issue of support for the rule of law, the courts and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, nothing that we have said or done today, can be taken by the government as an indication that they can imply shadow designate, or any other status, to anyone in relation to the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.”

These four and others are opposing the date for the transfer of Policing Powers being fixed until the result of Sinn Féin’s active participation is proved.

This presents a problem for the British government’s undertaking, that if the devolved Assembly was functioning fully by May 2008 the policing powers would be transferred by that date, was the basis of Sinn Féin’s agreement to call their Ard Fheis to approve joining the Board.

To continue to impose conditions which prevent further progress is a clear indication that they are not sincere in their claim of conforming to the Belfast Agreement of April 1998 and to that at Saint Andrew’s in October 2006.

They know that any suggestion that Sinn Féin and Republicans and Nationalists generally should don sack cloth and ashes and dance to their tune is a real road block in the way of political progress.

Paisley’s path to power is being obstructed by his past rhetoric and fulminations. If the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis, now called this weekend for the 28th of January, takes an affirmative decision on policing his attempt at occupying the high moral ground will be thwarted.

The whole issue of the return of devolved government in March is still very problematical. It may well be, as I said in a previous article, that if the election is actually held and the balance of power remains the same or if the present distribution is even strengthened, the wrangling could continue for some time to come.

The political landscape in Northern Ireland has produced many paradoxes. Among those who attended the funeral in East Belfast on Friday 12th January of the late David Irvine, the former Loyalist paramilitary leader of the Progressive Unionist Party were the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Peter Robinson (DUP), Mark Durkan (SDLP), Gerry Adams (Sinn Féin), representatives of the Ulster Unionist and the Alliance parties as well as many others, including the Chief Constable, Hugh Ord.

They paid their respects and also praised him for the part he played in the peace process by bringing the Ulster Volunteer Force to a cease fire.

The British Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach have publicly given credit to the leaders of Sinn Féin for their statesmanship in steering and directing their party into peaceful non violent democratic politics.

Yet the mentor of all the conflict of the past forty years cannot bring himself to make the equivalent seismic shift as the Republican movement and the late Loyalist paramilitary politician, David Irvine.

That says it all and is an indication of the character of a certain intransigent fundamentalist obdurate preacher / political leader.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, South Wales, 14 January, 2007.

Samuel H. Boyd