The political ‘silly season’ may have ended everywhere else, but here in Northern Ireland things are as routinely bonkers as ever.
So bonkers, in fact, that even though we bypassed Belgium’s record for the longest period without a functioning government, the Guinness Book of Records decided that we didn’t qualify for official recognition because someone else — Westminster — could have done the job for us.
That being the case why doesn’t Karen Bradley (Google the name if you’ve never heard of her, let alone seen her) qualify for official recognition as the Secretary of State who has managed to be in a job for 237 days so far — for each of which she was paid the full salary — and done sod all?
Her defenders — and, believe it or not, there are some, albeit mostly on the payroll — say that her hands are tied because of the prime minister’s dependence on the DUP. But that was the case when Bradley accepted the job on January 8.
She always knew that she would be a puppet SoS; which is why she could never go further than the utterly vacuous “I am minded...” response when asked about MLA salaries and expenses.
She was aware that impotence was part of the job description, yet took the job anyway. So I suppose it’s really no surprise that she keeps such a low profile.
She reminds me of US President Calvin Coolidge (another mostly forgotten figure): it was said that he spoke so little that every time he opened his mouth a moth flew out.
So, if she isn’t prepared to do her job (which is to provide continuity, decisions and governance in the absence of functioning institutions) is there any likelihood that the DUP and Sinn Fein will step up to the plate?
Well, I would have thought there’s more chance of me re-growing my hair, dropping two stone, learning to dance and fronting a boy-band. But having said that, you could probably get fairly good odds of that being a more likely result than Arlene and Michelle getting their own act together.
Anyway, the DUP made themselves a lovely new banner — demanding that Sinn Fein end their boycott of the Assembly — and went for a photo-opportunity at Stormont. Shortly afterwards Sinn Fein responded with a tweet, ‘Ten Things The DUP Boycott,’ starting with ‘Integrity in Public Office.’
It’s petulant, predictable stuff and more to do with the rebooting of the RHI inquiry later this week (get the popcorn in, by the way, it could be ratings-winning stuff) and the drawing to a close of the recall petition in North Antrim on September 19.
In other words both parties are warming up for, although not certain of, a by-election in early to mid-October.
At the time of writing I‘m not sure how many positive replies Naomi Long has received to her invitation, issued last Thursday, to the assembly parties and independents to turn up for a meeting today.
I’d be surprised if they all turned up, but even if they did I’m not sure agreement would necessarily follow.
There are, for instance, very clear, specific differences between Alliance, SDLP, UUP and Greens on key issues. And we shouldn’t forget that it was Alliance’s own failure to cut a deal with the DUP/SF after the 2016 election which led to Claire Sugden taking the role as justice minister.
The notion that all would be well, ‘if only the smaller parties were given a chance,’ is palpable nonsense: always has been. As is the notion that an ‘outsider’ should be invited over to help us sort out the mess.
Let’s face it, George Mitchell’s contribution, while invaluable, didn’t deliver stability or trust, leaving us in the present hole.
The best outsider would be Klaatu, from the 1951 sci/fi film The Day The Earth Stood Still: “Your choice is simple. Join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We will be waiting for your answer.”
I was accused last week of peddling despair about Northern Ireland. It’s not despair, it’s hard-headed pessimism; and, as I keep saying, I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.
Last Thursday evening a series of ‘We Deserve Better’ demonstrations were held in 14 locations across NI (although the Belfast one was cancelled because of the fire at Primark).
Almost 600 days without government; almost 600 days of relentless spats between the big two parties; almost 600 days of MLAs on full salaries; almost 600 days of decisions not being made and projects being put on hold; almost 600 days of NI being mocked as ‘a place apart’; almost 600 days of confusion and dither and cuts across a range of departments. Feel free to add to that list.
Given that background one would have expected a massive response from an unhappy public: with tens of thousands taking to the streets.
That didn’t happen. Exact figures are impossible to gauge but my guess is that less than 1% of those who voted in the 2016/17 assembly elections attended the demonstrations.
The media noted the turnout and moved on. The political parties — albeit for different reasons — noted the turnout and moved on. The earth didn’t shake. No-one sat up and took notice. Life here will go on in what passes for ‘normal’.
And, just to make it clear, I’m not belittling the efforts of those who organised and attended the events. I’m just saying that, at this point, no difference has been made.
According to SF’s Conor Murphy, “Our intention is to have ministers in place by April 1, 2019; our intention is not to sit back here.”
Seriously! Seven months doesn’t count as ‘sitting back’? He mentions April 1 and keeps a straight face? Hmm. I think I’ll get a wig, start a diet and learn to dance.
I may as well be as bonkers as everyone else!