Monday, March 26, 2007

Paisley + Adams = Deal?

The word 'momentous' is cropping up with alarming frequency today, but perhaps it is the best word to describe a sight many thought they would never see.

Paisley and Adams, the arch enemies, have had a meeting. While they didn't quite sit next to each other, separated only by a right angle, they might as well have. Paisley has made his living mouthing off at those who talk to Sinn Fein, and after he engineered the downfall of the Ulster Unionist Party he was left in a position to put his money where his mouth is. Thankfully, he's chosen to step up to the plate and attempt to grasp a deal, the starting point for a solution to the deadlock in Northern Ireland.

From my experience outside the Province, no one really cares. The rest of the UK needs Northern Ireland like a fish needs a bicycle. But the people of Northern Ireland are unique amongst the British Isles in their hunger for politics. Apathy does not reign here and people recognise the need for movement and the power to change. Imagine Bin Laden sitting down with Bush to talk about peace; incomprehensible? After seeing Paisely sit down with Adams, perhaps it's not.

Do you know what it has taken to get this far?

Water metering.

That's right. In NI we pay for water in our rates, the equivalent of council tax. Peter Hain, the Secretary of State for NI in his plan to make life as uncomfortable for the 1.5m inhabitants as possible decided that if we weren't going to behave and play nicely, we wouldn't get any more special treatment. We would pay for our water, by the drop.

Adams said that he wanted a meeting with Paisley so that together they could stop Westminster from imposing water metering. Forget Iraq or Trident or cash for honours, water metering is the hottest political potato in the Province. Instead of 'No Surrender', murals in Belfast now read 'No Water Rates'. Today both leaders pressed for an urgent meeting with the Treasury, and Gordon Brown has hinted, but not promised that the prize for power sharing will be free water.

It's funny, perhaps a tax on beards will force Al-Qaeda to the negotiating table?


David said...

Good comment Manjo, however I would disagree with your assertion that Paisley is the one pushing for a deal. All reasonable individuals who voted in the recent elections in the north of Ireland (including myself) wanted the power-sharing executive to have been set up today. Paisley has put the breaks on at every available opportunity. However, I suppose movement at a snail's pace is better than no movement at all. (Have to say that the 'beards' comment was laugh-out-loud funny!).

Manjo said...

Well done dave, I agree. Paisley is perhaps not so much pushing for the deal as being pushed. Yet it should be mentioned that there are significant factions within his own party that still don't want to talk to SF, so that itself shows leadership from Paisley to do a deal. He does drag his feet, but if it gets the unionists to the table then perhaps we'll forgive him.

To be honest, I was sort of hoping for suspension with increased rule from Dublin. That would have put the cat among the pigeons.

David Williamson said...

Yes, Sinn Fein were in a win-win situation, and the DUP had a choice between taking a potentially destructive gamble (power-sharing) and watching the installation of an all-Ireland model of direct rule.

This latter option was eventually considered the worse of the two evils. Sinn Fein has become an all-Ireland party. It will be in power through coalition sometime in the next 10 years (or 10 months!), and it will inevitably enjoy increasing influence on the Republic's Northern Ireland policy.

The appearance with Paisley will have given Adams a massive electoral boost in the South. It helps stop questions about the £20m bank robbery, eliminates the "whiff of cordite" and makes him appear as much of a statesman as Bertie Ahern.

The momentum behind Sinn Fein is incredible today, and if it continues, imagine how Ireland will look in 25 years time. There's little sign that the Unionist parties have any idea how they will cope with a Sinn Fein government in the South and an ever stronger presence in the North.

One of the changes that came out of the St Andrews summit was that it is no longer the bigger Assembly group (ie, unionist or nationalist) which decides who becomes First Minister, but the biggest party. It is conceivable/probable that at some stage in the future (perhaps as a result of another Unionist split) Sinn Fein will hold this position. What happens then? Mass riots or an acknowledgement we have a de facto United Ireland?

This prospect seemed less alarming a few years ago when our inevitable destiny seemed to be within a United States of Europe. But with the EU's wheels spinning, such a radical change to the nature of the nation state in Ireland will be a momentous, er, moment.

My secret hunch is that someone with the political genius of Paisley may be acknowledging that Conor Cruise O'Brien was right - that the best strategy for the Unionists to seize control of their destiny, outflank Sinn Fein, and negotiate their own union with the South - which has a GDP 168% of the EU average.

The rise of nationalism in Scotland means the days of the United Kingdom are numbered, the concept of an independent Northern Ireland is ghoulish, and Protestants do have deep cultural historical connections with the South (Trinity College, a salvo of great authors and inventors) which could be rebooted.

If the DUP and the UUP has any sense, it will quietly begin to forge links with potential right-of-centre Fine Gael friends in the South. Similarly, Fianna Fail has good reason to connect with the SDLP, giving the party of Hume urgently needed republican kudos.

We may be at the climax of the peace process, but we are at the start of a much more fascinating story.

Manjo said...

excellent thoughts Brother!