if power-sharing is working so badly, why does prevailing wisdom insist that it must be preserved at all costs? Sinn Féin and the DUP will be the chief beneficiaries of maintaining the sectarian carve-up, and whilst they can, between them, carry more than enough votes to impose the Hillsborough settlement, it is they who should be expected to promote its merits.
The current situation is that the Democratic Unionists, on one hand, champion their bright new deal, yet on the other, insist that the UUP must support it too, or else the bigger party will bring Stormont crashing down!
It is a perfect reflection of the state of democracy in Northern Ireland. ‘The peace process’ has become an untouchable shibboleth, an end in itself and woe betide us all if any politics threaten to break out. It doesn’t matter a jot if consensus is real or imposed. What is important is that consensus is seen to be reached.
The truth is, far more fatalistic than those who want to exploit the current ‘crisis’ to engineer a reformed Assembly, are those who would protect it at all costs. They believe that the current brand of power-sharing is the best that we can hope for. They react with horror when any ‘centre ground’ politician raises his head above the parapet to suggest otherwise.
Yet they are often the same people who complain that politics in Northern Ireland aren’t addressing the issues which matter; that they focus on cultural irrelevancies, and ignore more pressing concerns.
If the SDLP and UUP endorse the SF / DUP deal on policing without first securing lasting improvement in Assembly function the parties will have proved themselves as spineless as their counterparts in Alliance. It is entirely unremarkable politics to insist that if input is ignored then votes will not be unforthcoming.