Sunday 22 April 2018

Direct rule would suit Gerry Adams and SF least of all

The Palace of Westminster. Stock picture
The Palace of Westminster. Stock picture
John Downing

John Downing

Nobody - in London, Dublin or Belfast - really wants to see direct rule by Britain coming back to Northern Ireland. It would spell failure for more than two decades of efforts to copperfasten a still fragile peace.

But power-sharing has been broken down since last January in Belfast and this political vacuum cannot be allowed drag on and on indefinitely. Thus there were the first signals from Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, yesterday that this "nuclear option" is beginning to loom into view.

Now, the political reality is that direct rule from London would suit Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin least of all the parties engaged. Their would-be power-sharing partners, Arlene Foster's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), still have the "in" at Westminster as they prop up Theresa May's parlous Conservative Party minority government since her election disaster on June 8 last.

Right enough, the DUP may lose some kudos in being seen to spend the £1.5bn largesse extracted from London in late June as part of that crude political bargain.

But Gerry Adams & Co would be left hanging about, all dressed up with nowhere to go, and their indispensable back-up tier of administrators and advisers may be facing a precarious future unable to meet mortgages and other family financial necessities.

Sinn Féin counterpart to the DUP's London sponsors - the Dublin Government - has long had an iffy enough realtionship with them. They are after all avid competitors for votes south of the border.

Read More: Adams accused of role in Provos killing of farmer

Gerry Adams's party always pride themselves on playing "a long game" in politics, emulating their "long-war strategy" back in the IRA days. But the day-to-day practicalities of direct rule may mean that longer-term stuff is not entirely applicable - even if speculation about Brexit mishaps fuels united Ireland dreams.

The comment by DUP leader Arlene Foster about being so "disappointed" that Sinn Féin were so very quick to reject her proposal last week to restore the Northern Irish Assembly has chimed with many. Right enough, her offer was no great shakes, but her conciliatory tone was worth more courtesy.

The reality is that we have de facto direct rule from Westminster since the assembly's collapse in January. Ms Foster's suggestion last Thursday was the restoration of devolved government, with a parallel process to defuse the culture and language rows. But this was peremptorily rejected by Sinn Féin.

"Of course we were disappointed at the way in which Sinn Féin reacted to the comments that I made on Thursday evening. The breakneck speed at which it was dealt with said to me that they didn't really want to consider what had been put on the table to them," Ms Foster said.

But, as always with the North, we must keep our eyes on the bigger prize. So it was heartening that Ms Foster added that the DUP would remain engaged in the process and keep talking with all of the other parties this week.

Equally, Sinn Féin leader in the North Michelle O'Neill said a deal could be "done in days" if Northern Irish parties took the right approach to talks. "There is a short window in front of us where we need to find solutions and a way forward," she said.

Well, where will this stimulus come from? Perhaps, there is a clue in warnings that day-to-day funds for things like health are running low. London may have to approve more spending bringing us closer to direct rule.

Irish Independent

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