Ireland: Another Stormont crisis

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On 12 August former IRA volunteer Kevin McGuigan was shot dead outside his home in the Short Strand, East Belfast. Arrests followed, as did a press conference at Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) headquarters on 20 August. There, Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes told reporters that the PSNI suspected the killing was a revenge attack for the fatal shooting earlier this year of Gerard ‘Jock’ Davison, a prominent republican. He went on to say he believed members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army had been involved – words then echoed by the Chief Constable of the PSNI George Hamilton. Cue gasps of horror from the loyalist establishment: a decade since decommissioning and the Provisional IRA still exists? Who knew about this? Well, the PSNI for one. The British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, said she did too. Spurred on by further arrests of high-profile republicans, including Sinn Féin’s northern chairperson Bobby Storey, the loyalists at Stormont have lost no time in transforming a long-running political impasse into a hastily-manufactured political crisis. PATRICK CASEY reports.

Resignations, rogues and renegades

On 1 September Mike Nesbitt’s Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) withdrew its sole minister from the Stormont Executive on the basis that it was now ‘impossible to do business with [Sinn Féin] because we do not trust them’. The party will, however, continue to do well-paid ‘business’ with Sinn Féin and everyone else in the assembly chamber and in its various committees. The UUP move was, in part, opportunistic, intended to wrong-foot the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which has been loyalism’s dominant electoral force for the past 12 years. In the British general election in May, the UUP halted its electoral decline and made gains at the DUP’s expense. With the DUP leadership facing a challenge from its party’s own right-wing and the threat of financial scandal hovering overhead, the Ulster Unionists saw an opportunity to capitalise.

Determined not to be outdone or outflanked by its UUP elders, the DUP responded. Having variously failed to either exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive, to temporarily adjourn the Stormont Assembly or to indefinitely suspend it, DUP leader Peter Robinson threatened to resign as First Minister – again. Then on 10 September, along with three other DUP ministers, he did. Sort of. ‘Resign’ has since become ‘stepped aside’ with the DUP’s Arlene Foster taking over the reins as interim First Minister – again. By leaving Foster in place, the DUP is propping up the Executive and avoiding an election it does not want while ‘defending the unionist community’ from ‘rogue Sinn Féin’ and ‘renegade SDLP’ ministers who may have used the DUP’s absence to make ‘financial and other decisions…detrimental to Northern Ire­land’. If seats in the Stormont Execu­tive are left empty for a week without re-nomination, it falls to the Assembly to reallocate them to other parties based on the d’Hondt system. So, six days later the DUP ministers were back at their posts…only to promptly resign all over again. They say they will repeat the process until Westminster legislates to suspend power-sharing and reinstate direct rule. And so it goes on.

Criminality and terror

As Sinn Féin insists that the ‘IRA has gone away’, loyalists meanwhile have demanded the reintroduction of the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) as part of ‘decisive action’ against ‘criminality and terrorisation of communities’. Of course whether you are Peter Robinson or the PSNI, in order to oppose ‘criminality and terror’ whilst aiming to preserve a sectarian statelet founded on and sustained by criminality and terror, you have to be somewhat selective.

Little more than two years have passed since the leaders of mainstream unionism were rubbing shoulders with political representatives of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defence Association as part of their ‘Ulster Forum’ united front. In the case of recent UVF shootings, the PSNI has admitted loyalist involvement only after significant delay. No ‘crisis talks’ or ministerial resignations have followed. In August it was revealed Peter Robinson was among a number of DUP politicians who wrote to a Belfast court judge urging ‘leniency’ in the case of former loyalist paramilitary Samuel Tweed.

Deadlock to crisis

Behind the farce and bluster is a determination on behalf of Britain and loyalism to break the deadlock that has existed since the signing of the Stor­mont House Agreement in December 2014. Threats to suspend the Assembly, reintroduce the IMC or revoke release licences of former political prisoners are intended to pressure Sinn Féin into making further concessions – particularly on the issue of welfare cuts. Whilst Stormont has presided over years of austerity, a very limited opposition led by Sinn Féin has delayed full implementation of the welfare ‘reform’ demanded by imperialism. With the Easter Rising centenary and elections at Stormont and Leinster House fast approaching, Sinn Féin has relied on these delay tactics to help maintain a pretence of opposition to austerity – of the ‘Tory’ and Troika varieties. In reality, its history in Stormont is one of perpetual capitulation.

FRFI 247 October/November 2015

Ireland: the key to the British revolution by David Reed