A “quick dose of direct rule” is not an option

There seems to be a growing sense that the best option for Northern Ireland now is for a “quick dose of Direct Rule” to “sort things out” and then a restoration of devolution.

This is understandable – but very, very wrong. It cannot happen.

Firstly, it is simply ludicrous. You cannot have political stability if every time a difficult decision is required the government has to collapse for a few months to let someone else make it. The whole point of devolution is that decision making is in local hands – and not just the easy decisions!

Secondly, there are no legal means under which it can happen. The power simply to “suspend” the institutions was removed in 2006. The UK Government could in theory pass legislation to enable this, but it would be risky, requiring consultation with the Irish Government and leading potentially to a complete breakdown in relationships.

In other words, if the institutions “collapse” (because, immediately, Unionists are unprepared to work them), they will stay collapsed.

This is good news neither for Unionists nor for Nationalists. For Unionists, it makes Northern Ireland a clear exception in the UK – with Scotland, Wales and even English cities receiving more devolution, Northern Ireland would be opting for what is, frankly, colonial rule. For Nationalists, it means Conservative government and all that entails with regard to welfare and the budget – exactly what they have been trying to avoid.

We should be clear that, specifically, it is bad news for those seeking to put an end the “Republican” gangsterism. Let us remind ourselves that 13 murders in Northern Ireland in 2014 (few carried out by “Republicans” or any other “political” group) is better than 460 in 1972 (a majority by “Republicans”). We do need to move towards the goal where “Republicans”, like everyone else, accept that elections have winners and losers and no single group has a right to veto everything it does not like. However, straightforward exclusion only makes matters worse for people, not least those within communities where most self-identify as “Republican”, who are trying to ensure the case for a return to the “physical force tradition” does not gain ground. (The DUP is right, in fact, to accuse those who do not see that obvious point of “abdicating responsibility” and noting that the Ulster Unionists’ move “into Opposition” does nothing to achieve the stated objective of that move.)

Among the general public two things need to be understood about the practical real world of modern Northern Ireland. First, Direct Rule will mean better government in the short term but greater social instability, including violence, in the long term (noting that power-sharing devolution is the only form of government here whose legitimacy is not seriously contested by anyone). Second, Direct Rule cannot be implemented just for the short term.

Bearing those in mind, people just need to be careful what they wish for.

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2 thoughts on “A “quick dose of direct rule” is not an option

  1. A particular concern, should the institutions collapse, and direct-rule be reinstituted, is just what Sinn Féin leaders can then point to as having been achieved by either the campaign of terror carried out by PIRA, or by the “peace process” which followed. There must be a high potential impact, even if low to medium probability, risk of creating a seed bed for renewed and reinvigorated dissident terror. Might it be that the prospect of power in the Republic in 2016 has tempted Sinn Féin away from a normally sure footed strategy driven political approach?

  2. I’m sure Sinn Féin have answered time and time again what they believe to have been achieved by the PIRA in their time and by the peace process that follows.

    The Provisional movement had their martyrs, their enemies, their cause, and their support effectively they had their “war”… but they still had a large number of detractors from all the death and violence that happened. Indeed as Austin Curie had pointed out the Provisional movement gained more success from the deaths of IRA hunger strikers than it ever achieved from all its deaths prior.

    To put the 2016 issue into perspective, it’s guaranteed that parties that were once affiliated with violent groups will be in power in Leinster House .whatever happens … Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael opposite sides of the Irish Civil War, the Labour Party founded by members of the Irish Citizen’s Army and a 1916, (Provisional) Sinn Féin linked of course to the (Provisional) IRA, The Worker’s Party from the Official IRA side too.

    1916 Easter Rising was a failed rebellion, that created martyrs and made a little known party called Sinn Féin who had nothing to do with the Easter Rising until De Valera joined later. The Irish weren’t too enamored with either Sinn Féin or the Easter Risers but after things like executing a crippled James Connolly or the conscription crisis etc. De Valera got enough propaganda for his war.

    My interpretation is that the PSNI line of inquiry if to be believed is that Provisional IRA members (renegade or otherwise) are in the same position as the Officials once were, not using violence (even indirect violence) for “political reasons” but for “defensive actions”/”retaliatory actions” against threats to their lives and communities. Of course there were links to criminality then by some individuals, but Officials and Provos … there are ex-DUP, ex-UUP, ex-SDLP and ex-Alliance members who are criminals too.

    Major difference between the Officials and the Provos is is that the Provos are more in deep with power and political responsibility. Sinn Féin are administering power locally, engaging in politics within the EU, the Oireachtas, and Stormont even Westminster (albeit as abstentionists) and they accept the legitimacy of the police these days, damn all violence carried out in the name of republican cause, in some cases to the point they have become targets.

    PIRA links to continuing violence would be seen as a damaging scandal like “Haughey-Blaney” Arms Crisis was to Fianna Fáil than Danny Morrison’s rejection of trying to “win the war through the ballot box” back in 1981, that had limited success anyway.

    Dissidents won’t care about “partitionist” Stormont or “partitionist” Leinster House, unionist or “West Brit” (they might put up a few candidates as abstentionists next year to dissent partition, austerity, capitalism, church status and British/EU rule but won’t come close to a seat win).

    If there is an internal feud, or housekeeping done on unsavory characters in their community linked to the Provisional movement, it does present Sinn Féin as hypocrites, but then I’d imagine from a dissident point of view Sinn Féin have been hypocrites for decades.

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