Locally elected politicians running Northern Ireland is by far the most preferable option for government here. But this presupposes a willingness by partners to actually work together, pull together and govern together. It further presupposes that ultimately the political class have the best interests of the country and the people who inhabit it at heart.
That fact is, we can’t presuppose any of these basic assumptions let alone the more difficult ones of finding radical solutions to policy differences and implementing difficult structural changes to complex needs when frankly one of the key players in the politics of Northern Ireland have to all intents and purposes given up on the reality of local people doing real politics.
Let’s cut to the chase, Sinn Fein has lost interest in helping to govern Northern Ireland because they made the wrong policy choice many years ago.
When they believed that by governing Northern Ireland, as opposed to bombing, it would help them achieve the end of British rule and lead to a process of uniting Ireland. They had hoped that devolution was not an end in itself but was in fact another phase of process politics.
However, devolution meant a full stop not a comma in the political lexicon. It has taken them the guts of a decade to figure this out and for the rank and file membership to “man up” and tell its political leaders to start a different process.
Whilst it is right and proper to pursue talks, frankly engaging with Sinn Fein in a talks process is in my view a waste of time. The DUP cannot meet any of Sinn Féin’s red lines as publicly advocated. And more importantly we would be wrong to entertain them that talks with us will lead to such unrealistic concessions.
One must assume that they - Sinn Fein - haven’t the gift to spell out publicly their real position because their spokespeople come on our radio and TV with evangelical zeal and with Google-eyed fanaticism they regurgitate the SF mantra. One must assume that this is the authentic position and nothing less than these three policy changes will suffice:-
• a stand alone Irish language act.
• a change to abortion law, inauspiciously called a human rights issue when they wish to terminate an unborn life.
• a change to marriage law that they call a respect agenda.
They do not appear to have any key demands on our health care crisis or other more pressing requirements that all Protestants and Roman Catholics face each day.
What is more, they want a number of structural changes to how the assembly operates and effectively an implementation of their manifesto demands - from an election where they came second - without the pain of having to be in government to deliver it.
Any sane person knows that’s just not how government is delivered in anything resembling a normal democracy. Now I hear a lot shouting back ‘but NI isn’t normal’. But even with all of the peculiarities of a divided country it is not sane to expect the delivery of your manifesto demands before entering a coalition government unless you have set your mind upon frustrating the actual democratic process from even functioning.
My party has held out the olive branch. We have said we have no preconditions to entering government right away and working with zeal to attempt to find ways to address areas of serious disagreement. In fact, we have been waiting to enter government for a year and during negotiations have demonstrated a practical willingness to address problems and policy differences. Each olive branch has been met with secateurs chopping those offers to pieces.
The prospect of talks is now the only political proposal this year. However, Sinn Fein must recognise that there is little point in talking if they can’t get their own way and my party can’t be expected to lead people up a garden path to what is a dead end. The fact is, unless Sinn Fein have a radical change of position then talking isn’t going to deliver anything. We would be far better recognising this now and instead of wasting the first quarter of this year, move to the appointment of mainland ministers to start the process of running local departments and preparing a budget for the spring.
I believe this will unfold in front of us. It will be direct rule in all but name. I would expect to see additional mainland ministers appointed before the end of January and decisions about allocations of budget and drafting of a new budget for the upcoming financial year emerging quickly. Once this happens direct rule will move on at pace. It’s like the old saying “the king is dead, long live the king”. As soon as people realise the shift of power from Stormont to Westminster has taken place public attention will shift seamlessly. The general public are too wrapped up in the importance of getting on with the daily realities of life they will soon acclimatise to the new political reality.
When the third sector, the business people and public sector and the community at large see where power lies and frankly where the money comes from to make government happen the community attention will shift quickly and overnight and devolution will soon be a distant memory. Now for those of us who have invested much into this and believe passionately in devolution it gives me little joy to say it. But for this project to work it requires belief and cooperation on both sides.
In all sincerity my party believes in devolution and we have demonstrated our ability to cooperate and make the necessary big compromises. That has not been and appears to have little prospect of being reciprocated on Sinn Féin’s side.
They have more interest in growing the southern Irish base and waiting out the implementation of Brexit before getting engaged in the hard work of local government.
The British government must demonstrate back bone and determination to make direct rule a working reality.