Category: Archive

To Poll or not to poll

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

It is, however, an energy born of desperation.
Hardly have we finished the first week of the new year and already there is an ominous sense that these efforts, consisting of meetings involving all the parties and high-ranking British government members, including Prime Minister Tony Blair, may well fail in their stated objectives. Their goals are ambitious — to persuade the IRA and other paramilitaries to wind up their operations forever, and to settle all the remaining devilish details of the Good Friday agreement that are left unresolved. These include British demilitarization, on-the-run paramilitaries, and the remaining policing issue. And all must be done within the space of about six weeks.
After that two things loom, one uncertain, the other certain. The first is the possibility that by mid-February, the British will be at war, in support of the U.S., with Iraq. This may or may not happen, of course, but the second thing will. The election campaign for the new assembly will be getting under way soon after St. Patrick’s Day. If there has been no progress by that point, then the negotiators may as well shut up shop,
For Blair, that is an unsettling prospect. And with some reason. The elections could come up with a result that neither the British nor Irish governments want. That is, they could lead to a new political landscape, where Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party stand dominant. It could make the winning of a new deal harder, since the DUP has been determined to undermine the agreement and, it is feared, would put further obstacles in the way of any possible settlement. Hence the current speculation that Blair might avoid this unfortunate outcome by postponing the election, which his government can do with new legislation.
That is the trouble with the democratic process. If you give people the chance to choose, they may make choices that you do not like. However, London must weigh this inconvenience against the possible fallout from a decision, if taken, to cancel the elections. Such a decision would further discredit the agreement, perhaps fatally so among Protestants. In the end, that could prove a more difficult obstacle to overcome than getting two old enemies like Sinn Fein and the DUP to kiss and make up.

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