The Irish Times view on Northern Ireland’s impasse: when stalemate leaves a vacuum
Deadlock will prevail in the North at least until Brexit is resolved, but that is no excuse for violence
The bomb in Derry at the weekend has been cited as a foretaste of what could happen if there is a restoration of a hard border due to Brexit but politicians of all stripes need to be careful about suggesting that violence will become inevitable if the United Kingdom crashes out of the European Union without a deal. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
The car bomb in Derry at the weekend was a reminder that a small number of fanatics, willing to risk killing and maiming people in pursuit of their aims, remain a threat to peace on the island. This should serve as a wake-up call to politicians to retreat from the extremes and live up to their responsibilities by finding a way to restore the institutions established under the Belfast Agreement.
The bomb has been cited as a foretaste of what could happen if there is a restoration of a hard border following Brexit. But politicians of all stripes need to be careful about predicting violence if the United Kingdom exits the European Union without a deal. There is nothing inevitable about violence and dissident republicans should be offered neither justification nor a rationale for their actions.
Dissidents were attempting to kill people before the people of the UK voted to leave the EU, and Brexit is simply a convenient excuse to continue their violent campaign. Nonetheless, the car bomb underlines the absolute necessity of a resumption of normal politics in the North. Little can be expected until after the March 29th Brexit deadline has passed but once it is out of the way, the existing stalemate must not be prolonged.
It is possible that the report into the cash for ash scheme, due to be published in late spring or early summer, may change the political atmosphere too. Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster’s role in the scheme provided Sinn Féin with an excuse to withdraw from devolved government in January 2017, propelling the North into political limbo. Foster has not fared well in evidence to the inquiry and if the findings of former judge Sir Patrick Coughlin are particularly negative in relation to her actions – or inactions – her position could become untenable.
The structures to facilitate an agreement between the two main parties are already in place. They were on the verge of a deal a year ago until the rug was pulled from under the process by a revolt within the DUP grassroots. The arrangement could be reactivated if the political will existed. But neither side will even think about moving until the Brexit outcome becomes clear.
Among the other factors that could yet influence developments is the outcome of local elections in May. Once that contest is over, the incentive for the DUP and Sinn Féin to emphasise their differences may diminish. In those circumstances, the prospect of renewing the Stormont institutions could even seem attractive.
For the moment, however, the uncertainty of Brexit and the overwhelming importance of the issue for both the UK and the Republic will take precedence. Neither government will give Northern Ireland the attention it requires until that big issue is settled. Deadlock will prevail but that is no excuse for violence.