Is Never! Never! a Maybe?
The recent discussions at St. Andrews in Scotland produced an outline set of proposals whereby through stages, if the parties agree on details and to the modifications to the Belfast 1998 Agreement, devolved government could be re‑established in Northern Ireland. The first step, if what amounts to a review of the 1998 accord is agreed, will be the nomination of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister designates by the Assembly Members representing the two majority communities.
Although in the papers it has been called an agreement, until the parties have discussed and approved a consensual document within their respective organisations and within a collective final set of procedures for its implementation, it can as yet be regarded only as a potential breakthrough.
And it is salutary to note, as the parties examine and discuss internally and in the wider communities, that had the DUP participated in the 1998 Belfast settlement we perhaps could have avoided the long period of uncertainty and the on / off limited operation of the Assembly. And we can not be sure that No No paisley, who has resisted and obstructed the procedures involved in the system, has said yes rather than maybe.
Indeed it seems that today the talks between the DUP and Sinn Féin have been suspended by a demand from the DUP leader that their nominee for Deputy First Minister should take an oath that he will uphold law and order if Sinn Féin joins the Northern Ireland Policing Board.
Paisley is demanding this before any decisions have been made by any party about the contents of the St. Andrews proposals, so it is clear that knowing full well the difficulties this makes for Sinn Féin leaders as they go through their internal discussions. The only conclusion one can take is that he is back to his old obstructionist tactics.
Their has not been much detail of the proposals in the press, other issues dominating the news, so i cannot yet explore the value of them. I hope to receive a copy of them in the coming week when I can consider the content and evaluate their importance and whether a win win situation might be contained within their clauses.
In an RTÉ interview on Sunday 15th October Taoiseach Ahern agreed that everything was not yet done and dusted but that Ian Paisley had in principle agreed to serve with Sinn Féin in the Executive. Of course, full details had to be discussed and accepted.
The process was to begin today (October 17) with the meeting of the DUP and Sinn Féin in the Programme for Government Committee. But, as I reported above, they havent begun without incident, reminiscent of Paisleys former behaviour.
From what I have seen in the papers and the broadcast media the next stage, if the difficulties experienced today are surmounted and the internal and inter‑party discussions arrive at consensus and an agreement document by the 10th November, legislation will be introduced at Westminster on 20th/21st November to give effect to it.
On November the 24th, if everything is cleared, the Assembly will meet to nominate the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.
When all is finally concluded and legislation in place it will be put before the Northern Ireland electorate either in a referendum or in an election with the participating parties recommending acceptance, although in either case there may be organisations opposed.
The Good Friday 1998 accord was subject to a referendum in both jurisdictions but it is not yey clear whether there will be one in the Republic this time.
The 1998 proposals were registered as an international treaty. This raises the question as to whether in the Republics situation a vote in the Dáil might be sufficient to accept any modification agreed by discussion between the Norths political parties.
One reported item which gives me some concern is that, apparently to the satisfaction of Paisley, grammar schools and selection are to be retained in education. From an early age I have been opposed to this for it has been instrumental in consolidating separation of the two traditions and thus in poisoning and obstructing political, economic and social integration.
There has been a lot of optimistic talk aroun d the St. Andrews talks but the usual caveat applies. As the Taoiseach has said, All is not yet done and dusted, for Dr. No Paisley is quite capable of destruction and is skilled in obstructionism.
However, if all goes well devolved power may be restored by March the 26th 2007, nine years after the Good Friday Accord, delayed and obstructed by Paisley and his cohorts.
In my opinion Paisley is after a sack cloth and ashes display for Nationalists and Republicans. If such is the case, we will see the collapse of the latest efforts and a claim from Paisley that it others and not he that are to blame. I would argue that this would not and could not be validated.
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 17th October 2006.
Samuel H. Boyd