Friday 28 October 2016

Once again, Dublin and London must ride to the rescue in the North

Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30

Charlie Flanagan
Charlie Flanagan

Enda Kenny is about to get a very up-front seminar in 'the SDLP experience".

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Now that Sinn Féin is threatened with being dumped from the Belfast power-sharing government, the call comes to Dublin and London to rescue the tottering Northern Ireland administration. Mr Kenny and his colleagues in Fine Gael and Labour are effectively being asked to sustain the northern end of the Sinn Féin organisation, which continues to threaten their political strengths in the South.

It is yet another irony in the endless store of ironies which litter the troubled history of the North. John Hume's SDLP paid a huge political price for risking all to bring the IRA and Sinn Féin in from the wilderness of recurring violence in the mid- to late 1980s.

The other irony is that this Dublin Government has already been left with one hand tied behind its back in all of this. Ministers have been obliged to hand-pick their words about the latest series of controversies to dog Sinn Féin in government, lest they inadvertently give a political alibi to hard-line unionists to collapse power-sharing in the North.

The tone of Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan's sparing comments last night could scarcely conceal a real sense of weariness. Mr Flanagan made it clear that the latest chain of events cannot end in the DUP following on from their smaller rivals, the UUP, and collapsing the Northern Ireland power-sharing administration.

"I remain of the strong view that the interests and welfare of the people of Northern Ireland are best served by an inclusive and fully functioning power-sharing Executive, as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Flanagan told the Irish Independent.

"This afternoon, I spoke to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, and she briefed me on the meetings she had this morning. I look forward to meeting her next week for a full and comprehensive discussion."

It falls - yet again - to Dublin and London to provide the necessary "adult political supervision" to sustain structures which, though now almost two decades old, have never really properly functioned on their own steam.

Adult supervision can only do so much to promote and sustain political trust.

There were strong words also from Míchéal Martin, who is recalled among British and Irish officials as being very committed when involved in Northern Ireland talks as Foreign Affairs Minister during the latter years of his government career from May 2008 until January 2011.

Mr Martin told RTÉ radio yesterday about his own convictions on linkages between Sinn Féin fundraising and certain criminal activities by republicans.

The Fianna Fáil leader went originally to the £26m Northern bank robbery in December 2004. Intelligence available to the London and Dublin governments then was that this act was carried out by the Provisional IRA.

Leading Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly utterly rejected these and other allegations concerning more recent suspicions about such linkages as an attempt by Fianna Fáil to vilify his party.

Mr Martin said these issues were a matter of personal belief and that in the atmosphere of fear and intimidation legal proofs were hard to obtain.

Enter another irony - this time from a point made on RTÉ radio by Gerry Kelly. In 2010, Mr Martin was making the arguments in negotiations, around the same table as Sinn Féin, to have full policing powers for the North switched from London to Belfast.

Here we go round and round again.

Irish Independent

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