Northern Ireland: Question Time – Decision Time

With breaks to allow Unionists to take part in 12th July ‘festivities’ the Weston Park discussions which covered 4/5 days ended without the pro Agreement parties, Nationalist, Republican, Unionist and Loyalist, coming to any agreement, with only reiteration of their own positions, lambasting their opponents, and some heated exchanges occurring between the SDLP and Sinn Féin.
Prior to this, allegedly the last effort to square the circle of their differences, Gerry Adam (Sinn Féin) and David Trimble (Ulster Unionist First Minister in abeyance on self suspension) made statements to the effect that it was up to Tony Blair and by implication, Bertie Ahern, as heads of their respective governments to come up with a solution.
This seems to negate the long standing argument that if only the British government stood aside the contending leaders of the two communities with understanding and without duress would be able to forge or threat of force but by reasoned argument and reach accommodation.
The short joint statement by both Prime Minister and Taoiseach is that they will produce a package based on their understanding of the views expressed by the three major pro-agreement parties, as well as the smaller ones, which will be the final opportunity to end deadlock on the contentious issues.
There will be, when this is issued, no further negotiations. It will be ‘take it’ or ‘reject it’. If the latter, then as a consequence the Westminster government will exercise their powers, including those under the Belfast Agreement. What their specific action might be was not stated.
There is speculation that if the Assembly was suspended for one day, by some technical device, this would extend the time for the parties and others to reappraise their positions beyond August 12th until September the 9th.
This would take the problem beyond the current Orange Marching Season, but it would only delay the crunch and not necessarily diminish the impact – only a firm agreement would do so.
Meanwhile all delays enable the ‘Nos’ on both sides to strengthen their support while the general population become more discontented and disillusioned with the Peace Process itself.
Paradoxically, by failure to come to an agreement among themselves at Weston Park and placing the onus on the two governments the question of Joint Sovereignty is reignited which has been the bugbear for Unionists and which would give further impetus to the DUPs if an election for the Assembly was decided upon, possibly eroding the slight margin between them and the UUP as well as that between Sinn Féin and the SDLP.
One of the factors bedevilling the situation is that each side, while fully aware of the difficulties that the other side has in coming to terms, continues to exploit this knowledge in order to placate their own dissidents arguing that they do this to avoid losing what control they have to these dissidents.
The time for the presentation and decision might arise around or during the Westminster summer recess and should a more serious event than the recent ‘ Battle of Ardoyne’ occur the recess could be delayed, or, if it had started, a recall of Parliament might become necessary.
Although it has been stated that there will be no further negotiations this I believe only refers to the sort of discussions which took place at Weston Park.
Over the many years of the problems in Northern Ireland contacts and exchange of papers have taken place with officials of both governments and representatives of proscribed organisations, Republican and Loyalist, as well as other mediators so this will continue and needs to be urgently developed so that the thinking time for politicians and activists can be usefully employed.
The overriding necessity is for all of them to realise that ‘politics’ must be seen to be working, effectively and responsibly, instead of the present situation when the politicians are hiding from realities and are seen to be shirking their responsibilities and blaming each other instead of themselves.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 15 July 2001.

Samuel H. Boyd

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