However, although a resumption of executive business will offer the optical illusion of effective government and although Provisional Sinn Féin may be placated for the time being, the same system which resulted in over five months of stasis will remain, with all its weaknesses and failures intact and the same parties predominant. Redemption’s Son offers some useful analysis of detail which might comprise a deal between the Shinners and the DUP. But where Ignited shows most perspicacity, is in his realisation that the detail of any deal matters less than what created the deadlock in the first place,
“namely …. one party can hold it (Stormont) and the Northern Ireland people to ransom. It is unacceptable, and it could be repeated in the future unless legislated against.”
Rather than provide bypass surgery which could tackle root causes of the patient’s problem, the blockage will merely be pushed further along his arteries, where it remains a permanent mortal threat (you will note from this metaphor that I am not a heart surgeon by profession). Jim Allister puts it rather more crudely,
“this short-termism will be rewarded by Sinn Fein returning for more when they next need to gorge on Unionist concessions.”
David Trimble liked to use Henry Kissinger’s formulation, ‘constructive ambiguity’, to describe areas of the Belfast Agreement which were deliberately left open to the preferred interpretation of either side. As devolution beds in, problems naturally surface and under the existing system, with Sinn Féin and DUP in the ascendant, ambiguities, pre-existing and newly invented, provide an open ended excuse for refusal to govern.
Ignited suggests that unionism in particular must show initiative and tackle issues before they arise, rather than merely reacting to the latest crisis. I wholeheartedly agree. Unionists had the chance, for example, to produce suggestions on how the Irish language might be accommodated within Northern Ireland, thus drawing poison from the debate and shaping it preemptively, into a form amenable to unionism.
Whilst the DUP leads unionism this type of constructive approach is unlikely. The party, in common with its Provo rival, seems increasingly to relish crisis. Intractable, inefficient and occasionally inoperable government will await Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future. Over a longer time frame, if devolution is to persevere, then surely voluntary coalition (with cross community safeguards) must be what all sane parties should strive towards. With the prospect of endless deadlock and no opposition to hold the executive to account, efficient government is an impossibility under the present system.