It is an examination of the implications – business and political – of the recent correspondence First Minister Peter Robinson sent from America to his DUP party colleagues.
The key decision detailed within his letter was the use of a veto to put on hold the Maze/Long Kesh Peace Centre project.
Robinson acted under duress. His was a response to a mood in the PUL community and the argument that this project on the former prison site would inevitably become a shrine to the IRA – a place where hunger strike and escape would always be remembered.
That mood is best captured in the Portadown Times comments from MP David Simpson – “I was determined no shrine should be built at the Maze in any shape or form that would add to the deep hurt of victims’ families. Grassroots unionists wanted nothing to do with any shrine on that site. The leadership finally listened to the people.”
Robinson’s decision and its implications have a much wider context and ramifications.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – Robinson’s principal partner in government – knew nothing of the letter.
So far, he has been measured in his response calling it a “mistake”, but maybe a clearer indication of mood is offered by another significant republican figure who described the DUP leader’s correspondence as “a letter bomb from Florida”.
In his writing and in his use of the veto on the Maze/ Long Kesh Peace Centre, the First Minister demolished a gable end of the Programme for Government 2011-15 – as outlined below:
So the political implications are obvious. McGuinness has been undermined and will clearly want answers and explanations when he meets Robinson in a publicly announced meeting in New York on September 9.
This will determine the political mood ahead of the upcoming Haass talks on flags, parades and the past.
The potential backdrop is not just the standoff over the MLK Peace Centre project but a deepening crisis of confidence at the very heart of the Executive.
If McGuinness cannot persuade Robinson to resile from his letter from America what then? Are we into a bout of dangerous tit-for-tat politics – or worse?
A common thread within the Republician community is ‘no Peace Centre – no Maze development.’
It should be made clear this has not been stated as a Sinn Fein position, but clearly there is the prospect of the implications of the Robinson veto stretching far beyond the frame of politics.
Eamonnmallie.com can reveal the depth of concern inside the Maze/ Long Kesh Development Corporation with at least three, perhaps four members of the Corporation doubtful if they will still be on the board by Christmas.
One insider said – “without access to the old prison and the Peace Centre being constructed – the entire logic of everything done so far disappears.
“The entire business case and branding were centred around the symbolic significance of the prison and the Peace Centre. Once you remove them – you have to completely redo the business case and marketing strategy.”
The MLK fallout is only one part of this developing and deepening crisis.
For a year now, street politics have overshadowed Stormont politics in a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.
In rows over the reduced flying of the Union flag on Belfast City Hall and continuing marching disputes, Republicans have been accused of “cultural war”.
The street has been stirred up by unelected forces, and in that play the PSNI and the Parades Commission have taken a battering.
We are watching positioning – part of the context to do with elections and votes.
A senior Loyalist speaking to this website said the Orange Order knows it has lost control of the situation in north Belfast and the standoff there over the Twelfth decision not to allow the return parade to pass Ardoyne.
“The PUP have taken over,” the source said – “part of their election campaign.”
He went on to make this wider observation.
“We need to break the impasse here. The wrong people are dictating and the right people are doing nothing.”
The source also had strong words for Sinn Fein on the City Hall flag decision and recent commemoration of the IRA’s dead in Tyrone.
“They are pushing the boat out,” the senior Loyalist said.
“It’s making our lives miserable, never mind our jobs hard.”
What we have outlined is the toxic mix polluting and poisoning the political atmosphere.
Our conclusions are as follows:
1) More important than the Haass talks is the McGuinness/Robinson meeting in New York on September 9 because it will set the tone and mood for everything else.
2) McGuinness needs to turn Robinson. It’s a credibility issue in terms of partnership or power-sharing government and the key aspect of joint decision-making.
3) Robinson appears trapped with no Maze manoeuvre room.
4) In this stalemate the whole MLK development is in danger, not just the Peace Centre but every brick.
5) In that scenario, Haass arrives with a full-scale political battle raging within the political institutions.
6) There are a number of options. Politics jogs on the spot until after the next elections or the two governments join Haass in another hothouse negotiation.
Much depends on how the crisis is managed by Robinson and McGuinness.
Do they try to keep their obvious differences private until after Haass or does this play out publicly?
Our view would be that they will not be capable of keeping the lip on this, given the confidence gulf that obtains.
We are not just looking at a row over the MLK project but at something much more serious.
This is about how politics here functions or fails.
The political edifice at Stormont is built with bricks, but could easily be reduced to a house of straw.
Haass is a crucial and key dialogue, but second in importance to that New York meeting scheduled for September 9.