Government plays weakened hand in seeking solution to impasse

Coalition employs twin-track approach in dealing with Sinn Féin

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan leaving the Dáil on his way to Belfast yesterday . Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan leaving the Dáil on his way to Belfast yesterday . Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Government and political parties in the Republic have, in essence, been spectators to the slow-motion car crash that has been happening in Stormont over recent weeks.

Long gone are the days when Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair were able to get their hands on the rudder at critical moments.

Now, there is a sense of distance between the governments and the process. That is mostly attributable to indifference on the part of the British government. The corollary has been a consequential loss of influence by the Irish Government.

Detractors

Fianna Fáil

In fairness, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers did get the Stormont House Agreement over the line last December, with the prospect of a fresh start and a pathway to overcoming the impasse on key issues such as welfare reforms, and flags and emblems.

Sadly, the intervening nine months have been marked by inertia and a widening and worrying distrust between the parties involved in the powersharing Executive.

The alleged IRA link with two recent killings in Belfast has led to a full-blown crisis, bringing the Northern institutions to the point of collapse.

The Government is a guarantor of the Belfast Agreement and has a duty to try to ensure its principles are upheld and that its aspirations are met.

To that end it must try to ensure there is space to allow talks and dialogue, that there is a process in place to allow the parties try to repair their hand.

At the same time, Sinn Féin is a political rival, with a set of views and beliefs that both Fine Gael and Labour diametrically oppose.

So there is a twin-track approach from the Government. In the past 24 hours we have seen Taoiseach Enda Kenny engage with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness on the phone and also try to cajole the SDLP to do the politically unpalatable – and damaging – act of supporting the DUP’s call for a temporary suspension.

Sceptical

Gerry Adams

Fianna Fáil has been critical of the Government for a claimed lack of engagement. The Government and Fianna Fáil have been calling for the Assembly to be suspended on a temporary basis to allow space for dialogue, as requested by the DUP.

Micheál Martin said yesterday it was the better of two bad options, but was “preferable to the collapse of the edifice”.

Monitoring

International Monitoring Commission

Unsurprisingly, Sinn Féin is strongly opposed to both those measures. It has accused both Government parties of “playing politics” with the issue, something which it itself is an expert on a whole range of issues. The release of Bobby Storey last night will lend itself to the Sinn Féin narrative that the IRA, to all intents and purposes, is defunct and that all those associated with the party are committed to exclusively peaceful means.

Will it have an electoral impact in the South? At the moment unlikely given there are no clear outcomes or conclusions to be drawn. As happens most often, those who strongly support a particular viewpoint will be reinforced in their opinion.

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