‘Seeing the wood pellets through the Trees…’ – By Brian Rowan

In the end the political institutions gave way, unable to stand under the weight of this particular crisis.
This was Stormont’s last day before its next day – with an election in between.
After that, who knows?
The quieter conversations away from the cameras are focused on that post-election uncertainty. The what happens after the votes are counted? 

What will the voting deliver in terms of the numbers on the party doors; something similar or something different? Who is safe, who is not?

In the lead up to the election, people are seeing the wood pellets through the trees. 

The RHI debacle is a story that won’t go away, but it is only part of this particular political script.

There is also an understanding of the implications of the wider crisis in terms of that very public breakdown in the DUP/Sinn Fein relationship.

In a couple of snatched conversations with a DUP politician at Stormont in recent days, he twice raised the issue of Sinn Fein’s red lines; lines he believes the DUP cannot cross and that Sinn Fein cannot step back from.

We know the Stormont timetable after the election; the Assembly to meet within a week, then two further weeks to get an Executive in place.

“Stormont is being formally dissolved. The lights are going off and no one should be under any illusions about what it will require to get them back on,” Sinn Fein’s new leader in the north Michelle O’Neill said in a statement.

This takes us back to the main thought that emerged in that conversation with a senior DUP politician in recent days – the lines that one party won’t cross and that another party can’t step back from.

Another unionist politician with whom I chatted today, quipped about 2019 as Stormont’s return. 

This is the uncertainty. There is joking about how long this might take to fix, but within the joke a sense of the seriousness of the situation. That knowing and not knowing, which leaves people asking, how long is a piece of string?

We know this election is not back into government, but straight into negotiations.

Watch the legacy battle that is playing out; the sense that soldiers are being scapegoated.

It, of course ignores Operation Kenova – or the Stakeknife investigation – being led by Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher; an investigation that will look at agent activity and handling and put a string of IRA killings under an investigative torch.

It also ignores the possibility of a loyalist supergrass trial.

There has been a late wakening up to the meaning of legacy investigations; that they are not just about what some would term the “baddies”, but also those they viewed as the “goodies”.

After ten years of consultation and negotiations, can decisions on a process on the past be reached within three weeks of the March 2 election?

This is but one of the impossible issues.

Another stage was being created in Parliament Buildings this afternoon for another of the many events held there.

What will the political stage look like in six weeks time, the main actors and the next scenes?

Can this place be saved? Only if a completely different working relationship can be established.
Who needs and wants Stormont more? 

We will get the answer to that question in the heat of the negotiations that will follow the counting of the votes.
Red lines – Won’t cross – Can’t step back…

It is too early to be certain and definitive about any of that.

One thought on “‘Seeing the wood pellets through the Trees…’ – By Brian Rowan

  1. I have spoken to many people from the different communities over the last few weeks about the governance failure and it seems that there is no surprise that the clock has broken at Stormont and time is now frozen. There was a built in determinism in the process. Sinn Féin has expressed its frustration with the DUP who are in turn still remonstrating about Sinn Féin.

    If people vote along their ‘normal’ tribal lines then the mess will be truly unsolvable – that is the message I’m getting. However, how is a realignment of the party political structure going to come about radically enough for substantial change to occur that matters – that can support a stable government?

    The RHI scandal is an acid test and if that does not move this political equation onwards then pessimism will be the order of the day. The system will have truly failed. Both nationalism and unionism fronts are divided. And we have republican nationalism versus constitutional nationalism and right wing unionism at loggerheads with a more liberal form of unionism.

    This ‘double split’ is the problem confusing the issue. It is making a working Assembly a no-go area. A new model needs to be created, one that will involve the UK and Irish governments and possibly with US support, a GFA II. We should not fear this process but embrace it.

    Certainly the Stakenife investigation and loyalist investigations will add a bit of colour to the pale sick political face of Northern Ireland. There are other issues too such as the victims of the Troubles etc. Each investigation has the power to further divide our communities. That is the self-fulfilling tragedy of all of this. Appeals for justice on one hand can seem like an attack on the other.

    I was present at the All Party Talks and remember many of the faces who were still active at Stormont including the First Minister herself. One measure I think we need to adopt is that MLA’s should only run for two terms. It may sound brutal, but this will prevent any deeply self-interested agendas to some extent (but this suggestion would no doubt be derided by those who make their living on the backs of the debacle of the Assembly.)

    Politics I learned at QUB in my academic past was a balance of self-interest and public duty, and the voters need to understand this more and be more critical when exercising their vote.

    The RHI scandal has pushed self-interest to the fore. Perhaps even over the precipice for the foreseeable future.

    With the advent of Trump and May, and Brexit round the corner, how can any sensible population shoot itself in the foot and step over the precipice and destroy its political institutions and representation?

    Is the self-interest of one sector of the Northern Ireland community more important that the wellbeing of the total population?

    Some seem to think so.

    I agree with Rowan. We are heading for a period of uncertainty. And it will probably be one of fractious not constructive debate.

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