30 March 2006 Edition
Get on with it
BY MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN
Peter Hain has been at pains over the recent past to convince anyone who would listen, that he is prepared to take the hard decisions in the absence of agreement between the parties. Whether or not he will actually carry through with his stated determination in the face of DUP belligerence remains to be seen. But in the meantime there is one very simple decision that Mr. Hain could make that might just give some credibility to his rhetoric. He could cease attempting to spread the blame for the impasse across all of the parties and publicly name the party of obstruction- the DUP.
If Peter Hain wishes to instil some transparency and accountability into the process then he should show some political courage by stating publicly what he knows to be a fact- that the DUP is the only party holding up the re-establishment of a fully functional Executive, Assembly and all-Ireland structures.
While in the United States for the St. Patrick's Day Celebrations, the British Secretary of State said he hoped that the political parties here would listen to the message and "get on with it". I hope that Peter Hain and the British government were also listening to that message and stop attempting to portray the impasse as a multi-party problem, state clearly where the problem lies and "get on with it".
Contrary to the picture being painted by Peter Hain, the only party opting out of the institutions is the DUP. Peter Hain is only obscuring the situation by claiming that the impasse has been caused in equal measure by all parties opting out. Sinn Féin's position has been made crystal clear on a number of occasions. If agreement cannot be reached with the DUP in the short term then the Assembly should be wrapped up and MLA's salaries should be terminated.
In such a scenario I believe the two governments, as co-signatories to an International Treaty endorsed in referenda by the majority of the people of Ireland, are obligated to jointly and faithfully implement the Agreement. Such a situation would certainly test the Irish government's resolve to hold the British Government to account for its obligations under international law. The DUP cannot be allowed to sit back and do nothing in the presumption that their preferred option of British Direct Rule will continue indefinitely. Therefore, if we are to have a further period of Direct Rule because of DUP sectarian politics, then it must be a different type of direct rule. It must be direct rule in equal measure by both governments. Political stalemate, because of DUP refusal to participate with other mandated parties on the basis of equality should not be tolerated any longer.
It is now up to the British government to rescind its suspension legislation and "get on with it". By doing so we will then see which party will continue to opt out. Sinn Féin and, I believe the other pro-Agreement Parties, are ready to form an Executive and the other Institutions of the Agreement at any time. If the DUP is not, are the two governments now ready to face down the rejectionists and jointly implement the Agreement?
In a number of interviews over the St Patrick's period Peter Hain also repeated his assessment that the Six Counties as an economic entity is unsustainable. This only emphasises the need for honesty about who and what is to blame for the political inertia here.
Peter Hain's observations are not just an admission of the obvious, but also an implicit acceptance of the failure of partition. It is obvious that what passed for economic policy here has been an absolute disaster. This has been recognised by all forward thinking people here from Industry, Economists, Irish government Ministers and now it would appear by the British Secretary of State.
• The DUP is the only party holding up the re-establishment of a fully functional Executive, Assembly and all-Ireland structures
While Peter Hain continues to murmur his belief in all-Ireland expansion, he continues to temper his comments with assurances to unionist politicians that it will not threaten the constitutional position of the Six Counties. I accept the need for sensitivity in moving the process forward here, but filtering everything through a prism of acceptability to unionism is not in keeping with the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement calls for parity of esteem and equality of treatment for all constitutional aspirations.
It is not for a British Secretary of State to recognise that the best course of action is for all-Ireland harmonisation in the economy, energy, telecommunications, infrastructural development etc., and then to attempt to put limitations on it by giving veiled constitutional assurances to unionists. Both Governments should do what's best for the people of Ireland. The possibility that joint rule may move us all towards a change in the constitutional situation should not be an excuse to put limitations on this process. It's up to the local politicians to argue the economic or societal benefits of political programmes and their possible constitutional ramifications. The governments should "just get on with it" and deliver what the people of Ireland voted for by implementing the Agreement, if need be over the heads of an intractable DUP. Their places will be there for them when they decide that all mandates are equal. I have no doubt that that is exactly the message that would be sent by governments, the US Administration and all of the other parties on this island if it were republicans who were adopting this obstructionist stance.