Analysis: Dublin meeting key to calming Stormont crisis
British and Irish governments must now establish if a total wreckage can be avoided
Mike Nesbitt’s decision to pull a UUP Minister out of the Executive exacerbated the sense of crisis. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
After the political maelstrom of the past week and the sense that the powersharing bodies could be blown apart in the tumult, Northern Ireland’s politicians and the British and Irish governments now have a little time to catch their breath to determine if there is a way of avoiding total wreckage at Stormont.
There is no doubting that the situation remains desperate. The killing of Belfast republican Kevin McGuigan and the Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable George Hamilton’s assessment that IRA members killed him caused great political uncertainty. Mike Nesbitt’s decision to pull his Ulster Unionist Party Minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy, out of the Executive as a consequence just exacerbated the sense of crisis.
But it’s a bank holiday weekend in Northern Ireland. Soon leaders such as Peter Robinson, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and David Cameron will be returning from holiday. There are a few days now to engage in behind-the-scenes talks to establish whether primarily the DUP and Sinn Féin are amenable to making the moves necessary to get out of the mess.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers travels to Dublin on Tuesday to meet Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. That’s when the British and Irish governments must get a grip on the crisis, to establish whether a solution is possible.
DUP politicians are under fierce pressure as a result of Nesbitt’s decision to walk out of the Executive. Robinson is the ultimate pragmatist, but he will understand how spooked his party will be by the accusation that it is remaining in government with an amalgam of “Sinn Féin/IRA” – a phrase that hitherto was almost redundant.
Some sort of ameliorating response from Sinn Féin might offer assistance but so far, to quote Nesbitt, it’s been mainly the “single transferable speech” that the IRA has “gone away and [is] not coming back” and that it was not involved in Kevin McGuigan’s murder. Expect efforts to extract something more detailed and substantial from Sinn Féin over the weekend.
As expected, the DUP refused to be “bounced” into prematurely quitting the Executive in Kennedy’s footsteps. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and other senior members of his party such as Jeffrey Donaldson bought some time yesterday.
There will be a DUP meeting with the British prime minister, perhaps next week. There is likely to be an Assembly motion seeking the expulsion of Sinn Féin from the Executive. That is likely to be academic as Sinn Féin and the SDLP almost certainly will veto it; but for some it might convey the notion of action.
Dodds also put pressure on Villiers to revoke the licences of any former IRA prisoners suspected of involvement in McGuigan’s killing, even if they are not facing any criminal charges. So far Villiers has not been responded to such demands.
Nesbitt, who for once has turned the tables on the DUP, suggested the reactivation of the Independent Monitoring Commission to adjudicate on the IRA and the other paramilitaries. The Alliance party also saw merit in this idea.
While the resurrection of the IMC is an interesting idea it doesn’t address the central problem of what is the real current status of the IRA. Any new monitoring commission would take time to get up and running and while there is some time to find a resolution there isn’t that much.
It is likely that the British and Irish politicians at their meeting on Tuesday will examine the value of entering a new round of comprehensive talks that would address this problem and also seek a means of ending the deadlock over welfare reform. It’s probably the last thing Dublin or London want to face into but it may be the only chance of rescuing a situation that still remains close to hopeless.