1000 DAYS WITHOUT GOVERNMENT: CAN THEY PUT STORMONT TOGETHER AGAIN? – By Brian Rowan 

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The answer to the question above is we don’t know, but Secretary of State Julian Smith is still trying.

In tweets on Friday night, he described positive discussions and constructive meetings with the leaders of the political parties here; and that they were talking about Stormont and other current issues.

Some of the conversations were brief. One of the longer meetings was on Friday night, when Smith travelled to Derry to talk with the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood in his home city.

So, is there going to be another attempt to fix the broken Stormont; are they looking for another of those narrow windows through which they hope new light might shine?

Sunday marks 1000 days without devolution and, if nothing happens before January 2020, then this place will have been without an Assembly and Executive for three years.

“HE’S THE BEST TORY WE’VE HAD HERE IN A LONG TIME”

When I speak to politicians here, there is a good word for Julian Smith.

You’ll hear that he is much more engaged, he’s not a Boris cheerleader, he’s intelligent, he gets it, he cares and that he is genuinely sound.

“He wants to do something, but there’s not much space to work in,” one source commented. “He’s the best Tory we’ve had here in a long time.”

Wanting to do something and being able to do something are, of course, two very different things.

On Wednesday, Smith tweeted: “Very clear message from church leaders tonight – they want Stormont back, and now.”

Why the urgency and why now?

If the Executive has not been restored by October 21, then abortion law will change here; but, after 1000 days without devolution, how realistic is a Stormont deal before then?

“I don’t see it. I don’t see Brexit being sufficiently tied down,” is the response I hear from one party leader.

That said, the Secretary of State is clearly still trying to get something done and it is suggested that will continue over the coming days; but, in this moment of Brexit turmoil, this has the feel of something very last minute. Another source commented: “There’s no structure to this.”

No structure, but he believes there might be an attempt “to use all the pressure around Brexit and abortion” to push the parties into something.

In the here-and-now, the widely held view is that it is the DUP that is under most pressure.

Another source, with whom I spoke, sees another game in play: “We are being conditioned,” he said.

For what, I asked: “For unionism being thrown under the bus on Brexit,” he replied.

“THE WHOLE BREXIT THING IS VERY MUCH UP IN THE AIR”

On Friday, some hours before the Secretary of State’s tweets on his discussions and meetings with the party leaders, a source had given me his read-out on the current state-of-play: no talks process, no intensive engagement and that it is highly unlikely that Stormont would be restored before a Brexit deal.

In a week of twists and turns, there is still no certainty about this, and we are in one of those political moments when parties are expecting an election. Add to this, the publication next week of News Letter Political Editor Sam McBride’s book on RHI.

Given all of this, how do you put Stormont together again?

In the panic of now, perhaps the more relevant and important questions are:  Should it be rebuilt again? Is this the right time?

There is no point in a Stormont now, if it is a return to the Stormont that was.

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About Author

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster. Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist-of-the-Year awards. He was BBC security editor in Belfast and now contributes regularly to the Belfast Telegraph and UTV. Rowan has reported on the major pre-ceasefire and then peace process events. He is the author of four books.

3 Comments

  1. Some thoughts from a broadly religious and unionist perspective.

    Are unionists being conditioned for being thrown under a bus on Brexit? Yes, probably; but why any unionist should be surprised about being thrown under a bus on Brexit is beyond me–that has been obvious from the start.

    Are the DUP under the most pressure? Yes, probably. But that is in part because of their foolishness in trusting Westminster (Oh what fools what fools we were… ), and also because of their associating God with Ulster, forgetting that God will not be mocked. And so the pressure is two fold: firstly that they are now backed into a corner on Brexit but with no power in terms of votes in Westminster, and secondly they find themselves having to choose between God, on the abortion question, and Ulster, in terms of political influence.

    And from a religious point of view. There are some who believe that their loyalty (a concept not unknown to unionism) must first of all be to the Kingdom of Heaven and that one practical outworking of this is the support and protection of the unborn. If our politicians, and especially those who name God and Ulster in the same sentence, do not follow their statements of support for the most vulnerable in our society with action which seeks to protect then they should not receive our votes–and they will not receive mine.

    There will be those who say, and those who have said, that an Irish Language Act cannot be granted; that a failure to vote unionist will lead to a United Ireland; or that we will be left without a political voice… all the while forgetting that Boris’s bus is already running and we are already in its path.

    (Oh what fools what fools we were… )

    • I wholeheartedly agree with P’s assertions in the above, so I won’t belabor or repeat the very astute points already made, except to say once again I wholeheartedly agree.

      It’s not so much a question of whether Stormont can be put back together, it’s more a case should N.I. be put back together in it’s current iteration?

      I’ve said here before and I’ll say it again that the only way to stop this political ‘groundhog day’ from continuously occurring is for N.I. to become an autonomous special administrative region under both British and Irish jurisdiction, but with neither government allowed to interfere in the internal affairs of the six counties, save for national defense and foreign affairs. We don’t send MP’s to Westminster and nationalists agree to participate fully in the new state without calling for a border poll every five minutes.

      A new N.I. flag (white diagonal cross on an emerald green background; signifying both the Scots-Irish and Hibernian parts of our culture), our own national identity and passport, a written Constitution, and a majoritarian bicameral Parliament with all current N.I. parties banned from running for election or standing in the new legislature.

      I would actually go further and have an elected Governor, a separation of the executive and legislative branches of government, which would eliminate the mandatory coalition requirement that has caused so many problems here these last 45 years.

      Wipe the slate clean and start again… it’s either that or we remain in the current twilight zone, awaiting the next crisis to rear it’s head.

      But before that happens, the DUP need to get real… there will be no return to Stormont without some kind of ILA… they need to decide imminently whether to serve the country or the Orange Order, whether they value most the lives of the most innocent and defenseless or votes at the next election… ’cause they can’t do both.

      The clock is ticking…

      • Actually, on second thought; scrub the elected Governor idea… it would never fly with ‘nationalists’ who would would see it a way for ‘unionists’ to bypass any potential cross-community coalition executive. And I’ve always thought it highly dangerous when the head of state (even a de facto one) and head of government are one and the same.

        Better to keep a Westminster model of parliamentary democracy (an 85-member National Assembly and a 26-member Senate, both directly elected in any new N.I. and have the British/Irish governments choose a Governor, subject to N.I. parliamentary approval, of course.

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