Thursday, March 02, 2006

Everything has a shelf life, even proconsuls

Brian Feeney:

You would have thought that our proconsul and his boss in Downing Street might have learned something from the last few weeks' debacle.

Certainly the poisonous atmosphere between the DUP and Sinn Féin, which even NIO officials detected, led Blair to cancel his planned presidential visit here.

The parties were not going to be knocked into shape by anything Blair could say.

Deeply discredited, he's now long past his sell-by date.

Our proconsul can't even get all the parties round a table because the Paisleyites won't play ball, yet he's still pressing on with the notion that talks on the future of Northern Ireland are about to begin, or so he claimed on Sunday.

His approach seems to be to wave what he imagines is a big stick.

He might abolish assembly members' salaries. He might close the assembly. He could set up a shadow assembly. He is taking new powers to enable him to call an election before May 2007.

Why does he think, or – to put it more accurately – why do his advisers think any of this will have the slightest effect on any of the northern parties? It won't.

First, he should close the assembly and abolish members' salaries because it's right, not because it threatens MLAs.

To suggest doing it for political reasons is absurd.

Which parties would suffer most?

It would hasten the inevitable demise of the SDLP and UUP and reinforce the dominance of SF and the DUP who have between them 14 of the north's 18 MPs with all the parliamentary cash aid that brings.

Would that make the DUP more likely to cooperate in talks with SF? The DUP has thrived on victimhood and exclusion for 30 years. So has Sinn Féin. They're well used to it.

Suppose he sets up a shadow assembly. Why should SF cooperate with it? They could abstain or they could turn up and vote everything down because they control the nationalist vote in the assembly.

Why would a shadow assembly make the DUP any more likely to talk to SF?

Yes, there could be a time limit on it. So what? At the end of the prescribed period it collapses and he's back to square one.

If, in his dreams, our proconsul harbours delusions that the electorate will punish either the DUP or Sinn Féin for the current impasse, then he needs a dose of reality.

The simple fact is that the polarised electorate here will go out and vote for people who represent their own side regardless of what some carpet-bagging politician from Britain says.

It's true that fewer people are voting in recent years but, sadly for our proconsul, the people who are staying at home are former UUP and SDLP voters.

It may be they are occupying a place or state of grace in electoral limbo for a couple of years before they make the jump to SF or the DUP, depending which tribe they belong to. Whichever it is, it won't change the result of an election.

The truth is that people who vote here believe what their political leaders tell them, especially when they tell them who to blame.

On the nationalist side it's much easier. It's all the fault of the British, and indeed the more meddlesome each proconsul becomes in the north's affairs, the simpler the task for nationalist politicians. In the absence of any change, the default position for the north is unionism, so the proconsul naturally must support that position.

On the unionist side, the bogeyman of the IRA is indispensable. That's why in the last couple of weeks the DUP has again trotted out a ridiculous series of lies – decommissioning never happened; the IRA is ready to use its weapons; the NIO is destroying the north's education system at the behest of republicans; republicans have convinced the British government to agree to an all-Ireland economy. So therefore they can't go into talks. Do you follow that?

HL Mencken, the ferocious American columnist who died exactly 50 years ago, knew how important such lies are. They are comforting and powerful.

He said: "The truth that survives is the lie it is pleasantest to believe."

Bush criticized as Adams visa still up in air

Bush's Irish Double Standard

Loyalist threat more sinister

Damien and Philip were happy and their killers couldn't bear it

Immortalised on the lips of old and young


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