Talks: A new carnival of reaction
After decades of hypocrisy and delusion the British, local politicians and a compliant media are now accepting that the Peace settlement in Ireland and the Stormont assembly are on the point of collapse. The issues are a unionist rejection of the terms of a much watered down peace process and a budget collapse.
The budget issue has been linked to a Sinn Fein refusal to sign off on welfare cuts, but in fact it has been building for some time and illustrates the fact that in terms of economic performance Stormont has never worked. Even at its best it never got beyond the sharing out of sectarian spoils to construct any kind of joint administration and even that basic function has broken down.
The British have been reluctant to intervene and demonstrate that the independent administration in the North of Ireland is a fiction, but they are now stepping in with new talks involving Dublin and the US government. Tactics involve a combination of carrot and stick. The carrot will have no immediate effect and the stick is largely imaginary.
The difficulty is that unionism is now immersed in a traditional activity – that is dumping their leader and moving to the right. This an absolutely essential activity as unionist participation in the settlement depends on them remaining top dog and that in turn depends on the vast majority uniting behind one party. Peter Robinson’s pragmatism policy is dead and so is his place as leader.
Carrot and stick
The British have tried and failed to pressure the unionists with US displeasure and have now moved things up a notch with the threat of offering Dublin an advisory role in the North – that was the threat last time and is unlikely to be applied again unless the British are forced to pull the plug on the existing structures.
There is plenty of carrot. Secretary of state Villiers has largely caved in to Unionist demands for capitulation on sectarian parades with the offer of a “panel”. Police cuts have offered an excuse for abandoning increasingly cosmetic reviews of past atrocities involving the state. The big bonus is increased powers for the local political gangsters, with the jewel in the crown an offer of a cut in corporation tax to 12.5%.
None of this has made any dent in the unionists. Peter Robinson supported the discussions, only to have his underlings insist that there must be concessions on Orange parades as a precondition to talks. They then went on to propose street mobilisations in alliance with the Orange order and loyalist paramilitaries.
If the unionists are to be brought to talks and to a rebooted agreement then much will need to be done to move towards a new sectarian triumphalism in the North. Greater powers will mean an increase in utterly open levels of corruption. Corporation tax met from the block grant means that there will be a corresponding cut in the amount available for the welfare budget.
What of the Nationalist groups? The Catholic church has gained immensely from the settlement. The Dublin government wants only quiet, feeding the ideology that the northerners are a separate nation. Many Dublin politicians long for the days of the Raj and are more unionist than the unionists themselves. The northern middle classes want to keep their snouts in the trough and are perfectly happy with the status quo. Trade union leaders are frantically in support, because it drowns loyalist suspicions that they are part of the opposition and because trips to Stormont and talks with politicians create the illusion of influence without the necessity to mobilise. Sinn Fein is in a difficult situation. The Dublin government have warned them that they need to present themselves as a party of government. If they allow the plug to be pulled they will find that the Irish capitalist class will seek revenge.
A rejigged settlement will be a hell on
earth, with sectarianism run riot and the poor and oppressed pushed into