Both in the north and in the Republic Sinn Féin has increased its representation in the recent European elections (North: 10 June; Republic 11 June) and in the Republic's local government elections (11 June).
Prime Minister Blair, in between European summit meetings, has discussed Northern Irish issues with Taoiseach Ahern and has said that he hopes, if paramilitary actions cease, that by September / October, it may be possible to return to devolved government.
In the meantime, discussions have continued via contacts, bilaterally, with all the political groups including the two majority Assembly parties.
The drumcree demonstration by the Portadown Orange Lodge early this month passed off peacefully, with the usual protest at the police barrier against being banned from marching down the Garvaghy Road.
However, there was a flash point in North Belfast, at the end of the 12th July main annual march. In breach of the Parades Commission's banning of all but the local lodge members walking without accompanying bands through the Nationalist / Loyalist interface at the Ardoyne, Orange following crowds were allowed through the barriers. There was a serious confrontation with local Nationalist youths and police and military were also attacked. Eventually, after water cannons were used, this subsided. The former IRA internee prisoner, Gerry Kelly, (now a Sinn Féin Assembly Member) is reported to have intervened, thereby preventing escalation of the violence. I heard a broadcast of him doing so in an RTÉ recording of the incident. Apparently, a subsequent withdrawal of the security presence, by agreement, prevented a more extensive outbreak of disorder.
Then, out of the blue as it were, the former Ulster Unionist MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, who defected to Paisley's DUP, made an announcement that if IRA paramilitary action was discontinued the DUP would agree to join Sinn Féin in government.
I ask myself the question, how does that differ from the statement made by the former First Minister and leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, when he and his ministers withdrew from the Executive, which brought about the suspension of the Assembly.
Donaldson tried to remove Trimble from the UUP leadership on several occasions before he finally defected to the Paisley camp. It seems, when one considers his latest pronouncement, thast Donaldson's motive in trying to unseat Trimble was of a personal nature, not one of policy.
In my previous article I could not visualise any progress towards the ending of the suspension of the Assembly until the European elections were over and the marching season finished.
The British Prime Minister has very serious problems, with the publishing of the Butler Report and its repercussions, and may yet not be ready to turn to the matter of the suspended Assembly.
He will, nevertheless, have to pick up the reins again, for surely, if he is still in office in the autumn, he will want some kind of arrangement to be achieved.
In addition to the other international issues, Iraq, the Euro and the proposed European Constitution, he will surely not want to have a collapse of the Belfast Agreement added to his problems when, as currently expected, he holds a general election in 2005.
On the other hand, looking at the by-elections in Birmingham and Leicester, Northern Ireland's politicians might think it best to come to some arrangement now, rather than depend on the volatility and uncertainty of a British general election to advance their positions.
The Good Friday Agreement will be seven years old in April 2005. An assured future is a necessity to both communities as well as to the Republic and to the British mainland.
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, 17 July 2004.
Samuel H. Boyd