I was asked to kick off the Late Debate last night on RTÉ with a great panel of some of the most committed and informed southern voices on Northern Irish politics, including Kevin Cunningham, Alison O’Connor, Gary Murphy and Derek Mooney.
Katie Hannon started on the much talked about but rarely seen ‘joint authority’. Ian Paisley Snr claimed he used it to get his more recalcitrant troops to sign the St Andrews Agreement, but he never described it in any convincing detail.
The important ghost in the room is the Northern Ireland protocol. Unionists won’t move until it is “fixed” and as Mooney noted in the piece the impression is that even members of the ERG are making a virtue of fact they don’t listen to them any more.
The UK has had the EU’s proposals on cutting checks on the Irish Sea since last October. Relations have warmed, but the revolving door at number ten is doing nothing to enhance confidence in the EU that any deal they might do would stick.
Brexit IS the core problem, and the Tories are currently seem to be in no state to fix it. An election in NI won’t fix it since it is not in the gift on anyone there. Even the DUP say this, and they stand to gain seats by crunching the TUV vote share in May.
We’ve already had two “elections to nowhere” since 2017 and all that happens is the less tribalistic unionist and nationalist parties get burned. In the SDLP’s case more badly than their counterparts in unionism, the UUP.
Yes, the centre is growing but the GFA then restricts their influence within the institutions. For Alliance reform is high on the agenda and to be honest the changes made at St Andrews (enhancing the power of tribunes) set the scene for 20 years of stasis.
The irony is that alone in the whole UK the DUP asked for Brexit and have found they didn’t like what Johnson negotiated for them. Now as the bulwark unionist party, they can’t compromise unless the UK ends almost all checks between GB/NI.
That’s something the Tories seem appear unable to deliver, and the EU unlikely to provide. There’s no end to this unless the UK government either owns up to the mess it has already made of Brexit or a new one comes in with a mandate to make it work.
On the upside, no one is planning a return to war. We’ve seen these hiatuses before in Northern Ireland. We survive. But it needs someone on the UK side to come with fresh ideas and sufficient political capital to implement them.
Don’t be holding your breath!!
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty