|Towards Joint Authority
NORTHERN Ireland Secretary of State Peter Hain was in the U.S. last month
to give his assessment of the situation in Northern Ireland to Irish American
Hain has made a decent fist of the Northern Ireland job. He has been blunt
and direct when needed. He has pointed out that the economic basket case
where the British government and taxpayer endlessly subsidize the local
economy cannot continue forever.
Hain has stressed that, unlike previous British governments, this one
has a plan in conjunction with the Irish government and is sticking to
it. He has pointed out to the local party leaders that if agreements are
not reached on power-sharing, then their coveted sinecures where they
get paid handsomely to sit in an Assembly that never meets are over.
Above all, Hain has pointed out that in British Prime Minister Tony Blair
the Irish peace process has an ally unlike any other in modern times.
Blair, however, is expected to step down within a year. In addition, an
Irish election next May or June could also remove Taoiseach (Prime Minister)
Bertie Ahern, the other leader who has given endlessly of his time and
effort to achieve peace.
In other words, the maximum potential for achieving the long dreamed of
power-sharing administration with safeguards for both sides in Northern
Ireland are now in place.
It was a sobering briefing by Hain, especially on the issue of what will
replace power-sharing if the current attempt to achieve it fails.
Hain was less than convincing on the issue of joint authority, a form
of which both governments have said they will implement if the power-sharing
ideal fails. He was wishy-washy on the details, merely saying that it
would obviously involve a large extension of the current cross border
That would not be good enough for Irish America. For too long the forces
of Unionism have thwarted every effort to create political institutions
that reflect the effective reality that the North is almost evenly divided
— politically, geographically and population wise — between
the two communities. Anything less than a complete recognition of that
fact in any joint authority formula would be insufficient.
If, as seems more likely every passing day, the Democratic Unionists are
the ones who balk at power-sharing, then it is up to the two governments
to show them that they have a plan that will deal directly with that refusal,
and one that will make them understand that the price for failing to share
power is a steep one indeed.
To their credit, the two governments have made it crystal clear to the
Northern Ireland parties that if no deal can be reached in November then
the entire exercise in power-sharing will be shelved indefinitely, no
if, ands or buts.
The hope is, of course, that the deadline and the determined positions
of the two governments will lead Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley
to rethink his party’s recalcitrant position on the power-sharing
Judging by recent events, however, that seems a long shot at present.
Paisley gave a hate filled speech over the July 12th season, one that
indicated that his visceral hatred of Catholics is still very much in
Certainly, the opinion of his party and its leader is an important one,
but it cannot defy progress for all the people of the North, no more than
the Sinn Fein position on the other side can stymie progress.
What is needed is for both governments to continue to show the political
mettle they have shown in recent times when it comes to taking decisions
if the Unionists refuse to deal. Irish America will need to see a form
of joint authority that is a meaningful reflection of the role of the
Irish government in the affairs of the North if they are going to accept
any compromise put forward.