The gossip around Stormont at the moment is over the future of the place. The question in everyone’s mind is: will I have a job next week? Today it became clear that it was a matter of days, rather than weeks before we know the outcome.
The current impasse could force a deal sooner rather than later. Peter Robinson, being crucial to any deal on Policing and Justice, was thought to be gone last Monday; however he clung on leaving a very capable Minister, Arlene Foster in charge. He could still go, but as time goes on and his name, and the name of his wife, leaves the headlines his position appears stronger day by day.
Are the personal circumstances involving the leaders of both Unionism and Nationalism about to push a deal on Policing and Justice? Both leaders, Robinson and Adams, have come under intense pressure over the last few weeks. Peter Robinson’s position was thrown into turmoil after allegations involving his wife were reflected onto him, while Gerry Adam’s faces questions over his brother, Liam, wanted for questioning on sexual abuse charges. These are the two issues that are dominating the pages behind the lead story which is: Policing and Justice.
Morale is at an all time low at Stormont as MLAs fear that the Assembly’s future could be thrown into turmoil over Policing and Justice. The DUP are under pressure to deliver, not from its members but from Sinn Fein. Policing and Justice has long been a demand of Sinn Fein since the St. Andrews Agreement, signed in October 2007. It appears now that it is crunch time. Sinn Fein clearly wants to deliver it before they face the polls, expected in May.
This crisis didn’t come about because of the personal circumstances of both leaders. It has, as I alluded to in the last paragraph, been a long running saga. The personal circumstances however make the situation even more volatile as both Adams and Robinson fight for their survival. The dirt has been dished out on Peter, and it is still being thrown at Adams; more may come.
The Northern Ireland Office believes that it is only Robinson who can deliver Policing and Justice. He has worked hard to achieve it; however some senior ranking members have publicly aired their concerns over the move. Is this for selfish electoral reasons, as former member and MEP Jim Allister threatens them in their constituencies, or is it because of principle?
If Peter had gone on Monday, resigning the position of First Minister, it would definitely have thrown the Assembly into immediate turmoil as Martin McGuinness would have also relinquished his position as Peter’s deputy. This would have triggered an election in the Assembly for a new First and Deputy First Minister. It has been widely thought that Sinn Fein would not have nominated because of the impasse over Policing and Justice. Before Christmas it was rumoured that Martin McGuinness might have even resigned his position as Peter’s deputy, but the Robinson scandal saved him from making that move.
The future is bleak, one way or another. If a deal is done, which is likely, the Assembly has a best before date of May 2011. If it’s not done the Assembly is in immediate free fall.