Category: Archive

Analysis: No deal in sight as election looms

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland. With a British general election looming on the horizon, it seems increasingly likely that the participants in the talks in Northern Ireland will call a halt with the possibility of a deal still unrealized. The puzzle of how to combine decommissioning, demilitarization and policing reform to the satisfaction of all the parties remains unsolved. A meeting is scheduled on Wednesday between British and Irish government leaders but it is thought that there is little or no prospect of a breakthrough and that some sort of stock-taking exercise will instead emerge as the British government sets its sights on the general election, slated for early April or May. Over the last few days, a major effort to get nationalist political opinion to coalesce on the new police force seems to have failed. Recruitment to the new force was launched on Friday, Feb. 23. Sinn Fein has not been persuaded to show their support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland by joining the policing boards. But the key to the policing problem remains with the Social Democratic and Labor Party. If the SDLP bought into the new force, as the British and Irish government hopes it will, it would give the police the momentum needed. Worried that the SDLP will endorse the plan, Sinn Fein has appealed for Nationalist unity. Many in the SDLP feel that Sinn Fein is out of touch with mainstream nationalist opinion on the new force, believing that most Catholics would back the SDLP if it decided to appoint representatives to the boards and that the party would not be penalized come election time. However, more cautious voices argue since the move would probably not help the party gain votes, there is no sense in taking the risk by joining the policing boards. Regardless, the debate over how the SDLP and Sinn Fein should react to the new police force might be made irrelevant by events. After just one day of the recruitment campaign, the RUC was flooded with telephone calls requesting applications for the new force with over 4,000 in a few hours. “The police advertising campaign has been a coup,” said a police source. He said that Nationalists were showing their support for the reformed force “with their feet” and that there would be no difficulty in meeting the quota of 50/50 Catholic to Protestant as envisaged in the Police Bill. Human rights campaigner Fr. Denis Faul said at the weekend that “the debate over whether or not Catholics will join a new force is over.” Likewise, last week in an editorial, ‘The Irish Times’ said that Nationalists should back the new force. “The thrust of Patten’s intent is there,” it said. The Irish government has applied pressure to Sinn Fein to end its intransigent attitude. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was said to have given Sinn Fein President “a tough talking to” last week. Last weekend, the Irish Government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Brian Cowen was reported by informed sources to have had a very “candid” exchange with Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness. However, Sinn Fein and the IRA have reacted to these efforts with harsh rhetoric. The party’s vice-president Pat Doherty denounced the new recruiting drive as “recruitment to the RUC,” and attacked the Irish government for “blaming Sinn Fein” for the impasse. In an even stronger speech at the weekend, Sean Keenan, a prominent member of the IRA’s leadership body, the Army Council, went back to republican basics. Speaking in South Armagh, Keenan was reported to have said that “those who say the war is over, I don’t know what they’re talking about. The revolution can never be over until we have our country, until we have British imperialism where it belongs, in the dust bin of history.” “Rhetoric for diehards,” commented a police source, “Everybody is battening down the hatches for elections.” The Provisionals, he said, are merely trying to secure their core constituency in key areas like South Armagh where there has been widespread disaffection among republicans with the current strategy and reports of increasing support for dissident republican groups. Certainly the most difficult problem that the leadership’s strategy has to surmount remains that of policing. Said a veteran observer of the peace process: “For republicans, endorsing the police spells the end of the armed struggle in a way decommissioning does not. An armed struggle can be resumed even after decommissioning. But when the police are no longer targets, there is no armed struggle possible.”

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese