The largest unionist grouping, the Democratic Unionist Party, has come up with excuse after excuse to avoid sharing power. They would rather continue with direct rule from London than allow nationalist representatives help run the place.
And so, finally, London and Dublin set a “deadline” of Nov. 24 for the restoration of the government. The two governments also dropped hints, but gave no specifics, about what would happen if, as usual, the unionists refused.
There was talk of “inter-governmentalism” and “co-responsibility.” Both are seen as code-words for joint authority, something which would in turn represent de facto joint sovereignty.
The unionists got the message. Faced for the first time with an alternative that was even worse than power-sharing, they began to make positive gestures and intimations.
Then the Irish and British governments lost their nerve: instead of keeping up the pressure by talking about joint authority they backed away from it.
The result was the outburst from the DUP’s leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley, in Belfast this week.
“Are we going to have in the government of Northern Ireland those who are terrorists, those that condoned and even planned murders?” Paisley said. “The answer of Ulster is no.”
And so, the two governments, too terrified of unionist intransigence to issue an ultimatum and stick to it, are once again staring failure in the face.
Irish Americans, who have invested so much time, effort and hard cash in the peace process, will be unforgiving of such dithering.
President Bush’s special envoy to the North, Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, spoke for many of us at his press conference in Dublin this week: “The United States is committed to seeing this process through to its ultimate success. Every day where there is not a fully restored Assembly and Executive is a disappointment.”