No Great Shakes – As Yet

A few weeks ago it happened – Ian Paisley, the Abominable No Man, went to Dublin, to Leinster House, to the Oireachtas, to the seat of the Irish Parliament, met Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, lunched with him and shook his hand.

The earth did not shake (whoever might have shuddered). The sky did not fall nor did lava flow down the hills of Antrim or Down, neither did Belfast Lough turn into a bubbling hot cauldron. Moreover, the Pope didn’t ride in triumph down Royal Avenue, through Donegal Place, stopping a moment or two at the City Hall before driving through East Belfast before finally taking his place as Presiding officer in the newly elected Stormont Assembly.

Despite these non happenings some DUP members and councillors were so shaken, even in Ballymena, Paisley’s home ground, that they severed their connections with the party whilst some disaffected Republicans (perhaps dismayed that those things hadn’t happened) broke their connections with Sinn Féin.

There is a story of the Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson standing as a boy outside 10 Downing Street in london, expressing his aspiration to take up residence one day. There is no report that I know of of Big Ian, when he was little, doing so outside Stormont Castle, but I was told of some of his activities by one of his schoolmates, with whom I worked in Shropshire in 1949.

According to my former colleague, Ian received punishment for his habit of positioning himself in an advantageous location, gazing skywards as shortskirted females tripped down the school stairs. However, these observations were made to me almost sixty years ago and I have no idea of my former workmate’s whereabouts nor of the authenticity of his statement.

But he did also say to me, “Look out for Ian”, “he’s going to be big in Northern Ireland, he has intentions and aspirations”. So although it’s not quite in line with the Harold Wilson story, it does resonate and now perhaps it’s ‘mission accomplished’ and my former colleague was well informed more than half a century ago.

I recall in the 1920s and 30s, when growing up in Belfast, that elections in the Irish Free State, as it was then, were held either just before or just after those in Northern Ireland for the Stormont Parliament. I can’t remember which order exactly but certainly close to each other.

It was commonly alleged that it so suited the agenda in both jurisdictions that there was some collusion so that in the South they could vociferate their claim to the Six Counties whilst in the North the incumbent Unionist government could capitalise by pointing out the danger of the South’s demand and the possibility of some insurrection, paving the way for achieving their objective.

While the close proximity of the Stormont election in March to the imminent May general election in the Republic are a reminder of those occasions, they are not unlikely to have been planned in a similar fashion and there will be a spillover between the issues in each jurisdiction.

No doubt the Fianna Fáil – Progessive Democrat coalition government in Dublin will hope to gain benefit from the Sinn Féin – DUP power sharing agreement in Belfast. They might also have some concern that Sinn fein might gain more seats in the Republic due to that same agreement.

There is of course the possibility of some new coalition taking over in the Republic if an electorate disenchanted with such things as the nurses’ industrial action and the other problems in the health service is affected in their voting intentions.

Various forecasts suggest that there will be many changes and the Greens and Sinn féin might be part of the balancing forces in respect of possible coalitions.If Sinn Féin were in such a position it would enable them to play a significant role in the cross border institutions set up under the 1998 Belfast Agreement, being the only political party holding seats in both jurisdictions.

It would be a strange situation too for Ian Paisley as First Minister in Northern Ireland if he found himself fortuitously able to influence events in the Republic, if the election there produced a quixotic result.

So as events unfold the new assembly in the North will start up on May 8th, the Joint Executive will assume its responsibilities and the Republic’s electorate will determine the make up of its government. Will the political landscape then change dramatically? Will the problems increase? Or will the situation improve as a result?

We can only speculate for the moment as to whether there will be real positive change for the better or will it be just all smoke and mirrors? Or, as the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose...”.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, 15 April 2007.

Samuel H. Boyd