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Brian Rowan 'The politics of this place is a story of power cuts rather than power sharing'

“More time is always the Plan B, leaving Northern Ireland in some no man’s land between devolution and direct rule from London.”


TOO OFTEN, POLITICS in the North is determined and decided by its winter theatre; by its endless plays of negotiation and talks.

And, far too often, the politics of this place is a story of power cuts rather than power sharing; power cuts in the sense of an absence of government.

It can be like that for years on end. Stormont in the dark. A political shell.

We are in another of those crisis scenes, except it doesn’t feel like a crisis; because failure here has been normalised.

The absurd has come to be accepted.

We are too understanding when it comes to politics not working.

There is a ‘so-what-type’ of attitude to not having a functioning government.

Talks that say and do the same things, that turn in circles, are treated as news, even when there is nothing new to say.

But our story is not just about the brokenness of Stormont, but the wider damage. All that breaks beneath it.

Tomorrow, thousands and thousands of workers will go on strike.

Services are crumbling.

The people who are holding this place together have been taken for granted for far too long.

The strikes are an expression of that anger

No government – no money

The UK Government has offered a financial package to help make things better.

And, right now, it seems we are in one of those political games, waiting to see who blinks first.

Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris is holding to the line that the £3 billion-plus financial offer is linked to an Executive being in place.

In other words, no government means no money.

One-party talks

Things are further complicated by the fact that for months and months and, then, for more months, the UK Government has engaged in one-party talks with the DUP.

These are about trying to settle arguments over post-Brexit trading arrangements; arrangements that unionists see as treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

There has been talk of a constitutional crisis, and no talk about Brexit being the cause of that.

One-party talks in Northern Ireland don’t work. Certainly haven’t worked to this point.

While Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaks of significant progress, that progress is still short of him being in a position to return his party to the Executive.

You hear the frustration in the voices of the other leaders.

Ulster Unionist Doug Beattie likened talks with Heaton-Harris on Monday to “a bit like a teacher-parent evening telling us how we are doing”.

He described no movement whatsoever, and said nothing has changed.

Beattie told the Cool FM political reporter James Gould that he has asked “many times” for the detail of those talks with the DUP to be shared so that others have a “better understanding of this”, but that hasn’t happened. Not yet.

Plan B

There is no sense of a significant Plan B, of some defining or changing moment in these talks.

More time is always the Plan B, leaving Northern Ireland in some no man’s land between devolution and direct rule from London.

There is no bold initiative. No real pressure. No appetite it seems to put a bolt on Stormont’s door; a fear that to do so would be to accept failure in the peace and political processes of this place. A process that is held up to the rest of the world as something that works, except it doesn’t. Certainly not the political part of it.

There will be more theatre before the week is out, but for as long as we normalise this nonsense, nothing will change.

Stormont for the sake of Stormont is not worth having. Not worth the effort. Not unless something changes.

When something doesn’t work, you have to fix it.

We need an architect – a leader – someone who can think this place out of its mess.

Brian Rowan is a journalist and author. He is a former BBC correspondent in Belfast. Brian is the author of several books on Northern Ireland’s peace process. His new book, “Living With Ghosts” is out now at Merrion Press.

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