Nine Weeks to Go – The Countdown Begins

This week the 2006 Labour Party Conference, in its new and old amalgam, has been and gone as its current leader serves out his thirteenth year of service and over nine years as Prime Minister. Meanwhile the contenders for the post have been shaping up and putting themselves on show in various ways without specifically saying, “I will be standing!”.

However, I will stick to my theme, the politics, twists, turns and nuances of the Northern Ireland scene, the progress or otherwise of the peace process and the possibility of a return to devolved government.

At the conference attention was given to Scotland and Wales as elections to the Scottish parliament and to the Welsh Assembly, with its increased powers, are due in May 2007. So focus was upon how the results might be affected by the internal problems within the Westminster Government and the Labour Party in the country as well as by the election of a new leader. northern ireland figured only a little, being mentioned, as it were, in passing.

However, whether or not the deadline for agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland and the setting up of a Joint Executive before November 24, it is clear that no elections to the Stormont Assembly will be held on the due date in May 2007.

And even if agreement was reached then or soon afterwards, a year at least would be necessary for bedding down and for overcoming hiccups in its functioning, which as history shows, are very likely to recur.

If Tony Blair looks back at April 1998 and the wave of optimism then he may hope that he could usher in a newborn Assembly early in 2007 which might give him a ‘high note’ for his departure and boost his party also, in the Welsh and Scottish elections.

On the other hand, if the DUP and its leader Ian Paisley remain intransigent and obstructionist the two governments in London and Dublin will have to shoulder responsibility for governing jointly. This will be problematical not only because of Westminster divisions but also due to the private and public difficulties of Taoiseach Ahern and the impending 2007 general election in the Irish Republic.

The best scenario, if the DUP and Sinn Féin can’t come to terms in a Joint Executive, would be a coalition of the two Nationalist parties and the Ulster Unionist Party on a combined programme of reconstruction by means of a change in the decision-making process in the Assembly itself to underpin its function.

But perhaps that approach is too rational to find acceptance among the ingrained indigenous political practitioners and pundits....

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 29 September 2006.

Samuel H. Boyd