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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
PA Media Michelle O'Neill (SF), Liz Truss and Jeffrey Donaldson

Brian Rowan Truss' resignation and Conservative chaos spell disaster for Northern Ireland

The former BBC correspondent says the ongoing chaos in London means Stormont is again forgotten.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 21st 2022, 2:00 PM

ALL OF A sudden 28 October – this day week – has even more significance on the political calendar of Northern Ireland.

Not just the deadline to try to get Stormont working again or face the prospect of yet another Assembly election.

But the date by which we will know who will be the next leader of the UK Conservative Party and Prime Minister.

The speed of change

The turmoil of the past few days has demonstrated that a week really is a very, very long time in politics.

It means Liz Truss will be the shortest-serving prime minister in British history.

All of that talk of deliver, deliver, deliver and growth, growth, growth now lost in a storm of political events that has turned everything upside down – not just in Britain, but here in the North.

On the front pages of a number of newspapers, Boris Johnson is in the headlines.

Might he find his way back to Downing Street?

Is something as seemingly ridiculous as that really possible in the political farce of now?

Johnson’s name is there alongside Rishi Sunak.

To get in the race they will need the support of 100 MPs.

Is anything impossible right now?

Another headline screams: GENERAL ELECTION NOW.

This, for some, the only path out of the chaos.

These are days when we speak of turmoil. There is so much noise. Uncertainty.

And, in such drama, Stormont is forgotten – less pressing, not as important – once again, a place that can wait.

Except it can’t.

A dangerous delay

It has been waiting long enough – another lengthy period without a fully-functioning government and just a week to go to that latest deadline of 28 October, when without a First Minister and deputy First Minister to lead the Executive, a decision has to be taken.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris – here only a matter of weeks – has said many times now that he will set a date for an Assembly election.

The date being talked about is 15 December – 10 days before Christmas and in a cost-of-living crisis, in which for families, food, heat and mortgages are the priorities.

Not the mess and the plays of politics in London.

And not the post-Brexit Irish Sea Border row which means the DUP won’t nominate for the position of deputy First Minister at Stormont.

An election won’t change that party’s position on that.

The standoff will continue.

There is this waiting to see what a better mood and tone might mean for negotiations between the EU and UK.

Talk also that we might get some statement on progress.

No one is suggesting enough progress at this time to allow the DUP to move.

But might all the moving pieces in politics right now, leave room to pause on that election date?

We don’t know.

In these times, it would be unwise to predict anything.

A system in chaos

Crisis is such an overused word in politics, yet it seems to fall short of telling the story of now.

Have we witnessed anything like this before?

This tumultuous post-Brexit period that has been so damaging, both in Britain and here in Northern Ireland; with this sense of things collapsing – caving in, brokenness. At times, hopelessness.

The mess that has been made over a period of years, is unforgivable.

Joke politics – not very funny.

Here, it has made louder the ‘New Ireland’ conversation – that big question of Union versus Unity is very much a part of the debate now.

And, in the waiting for the answer – however long that might take – I wonder can we really hope for stable politics here.

The political ground has shifted and is shifting. The standoff in our politics now is not just that sea border row, but a fear of change that some can’t cope with.

Change at Stormont with Sinn Féin now the largest party.

Change at Westminster, where unionists no longer hold a majority of the NI seats.

More change coming. For unionists, a sense of loss.

We haven’t seen or known politics quite like this – this mad drama in London that is making so many headlines in the here and now, and that, of course, plays into Northern Ireland. Creates further uncertainty.

Who knows what will happen on 28 October – both there and here.

What headlines before then?

Brian Rowan is a former BBC correspondent in Belfast and an author on the peace process. His latest book ‘Living with Ghosts’ was recently published by Merrion Press.

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