Sunday, March 11, 2007

A deal in "Northern Ireland"?

The Assembly elections in "Northern Ireland" have seen the further decline of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party. The Democratic Unionist Party got 30% of first preference votes and 36 members of the Assembly; Sinn Fein 26.2% and 28; the Ulster Unionist Party 14.9% and 18; the Social Democratic and Labour Party 15.2% and 16; the Alliance Party 5.2% and 7; and 3 others were elected.
The Government has set a deadline of March 26 for forming an administration, otherwise Peter Hain (the orange-skinned Viceroy - sorry, Secretary of State for "Northern Ireland") threatens to dissolve the Assembly. Actually, the prospects of a deal between Sinn Fein and the SDLP - despite the rhetoric - looks pretty good, although whether they will manage it by March 26 is another matter (it will scarcely be the first time a deadline has been breached). Jeffrey Donaldson (a UUP defector to the DUP) is not short of anti-Republican rhetoric, but we can still hear him say that "we are ready for government" and "this can happen quickly" ("within weeks"); although he perversely blames Sinn Fein for lack of progress. It might seem incredible, but Sinn Fein and the DUP do quietly co-operate in town halls across the six counties. However, there are many DUP rejectionists who just cannot tolerate sharing power with Sinn Fein; and there is a lot of speculation that the DUP may fragment. The big issue in the election was water rates, set to rise spectacularly unless a financial package can be agreed, but the price of that is that the DUP agree to enter government (without which, as Gerry Adams has pointed out, they will not get a "brass farthing"). My money is on an agreeent, if not by March 26, certainly before Blair leaves office, allowing him something to put in the trophy cabinet labelled "legacy".


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