Friday, November 28, 2003

Alternative Dullster

Scared of the future and stuck in the past
May the Lord in His mercy be kind to Belfast

Wednesday's Northern Ireland Assembly elections are simultaneously deeply fascinating and utterly pointless. It's the kind of duality we've come to expect from our divided brethern.

The election doesn't matter, really. The only way that the elections can have any real impact on life and progress in the Six Counties is if the DUP have been to see Spiderman, and remember the bit where Peter Parker's Uncle tells him that with great power comes great responsibility. So Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds can go easy on the shibboleths and sit down to do some business, or they imitate that other Hound of Ulster who fought the ungovernable sea.

And if they do that, Tony Blair will have no choice but to pull the plug on the whole damned lot of them. Thirty years of this nonsense, going on forty, all because the Unionists fought tooth and nail against one man, one vote since the foundation of the statelet? Tony Blair calling in his first favour from George Bush trying to get the politicans in the North to sit down and play nice? What a bunch of babies.

Direct rule is the way to go as patience runs out. How can the Unionists not see this? That unhelpful oik Jeffrey Donaldson was talking to Vincent Browne on the radio last night, mournfully telling the people that David Trimble will have to "consider his position." Jeffrey, like Warren Beatty, has always wanted to direct. Browne nearly got it out of him that he wanted to be Big Boss of Unionism, but Jeffrey seeped away once more.

As you know if you've been following politics in the North, Jeff is death on the Good Friday Agreement. Except for the bit where the Agreement calls for joint consent - now that the majority population of the Province, that sacred majority that the Unionists used to bang on so endlessly about, are overwhelmingly in favour of the Agreement, Jeff is demanding that there must be a majority of the Unionist community in favour of the agreement. The man has the political pliability of mercury.

And Tony Blair has to put up with all this? While he has the police out beating every bush in the Home Counties for mullahs and other difficult characters, he has to fly in Belfast to babysit Jeffrey Donaldson and Arlene Foster? Yeah, right, as the young people say.

The huge, huge winners in all this are Sinn Fein, of course. For the guns to stay silent, the ballot box must remain in the ascendancy over the armalite and that's exactly what happened. Not only are Sinn Fein increasing their own popular vote, but they're managing their vote with, ahem, military precision, ensuring that the vote returns the maximum number of seats.

Now the Shinners are casting eager and calculating eyes South, where the opportunities seem limitless. There is no opposition to the present Government, a void into which Sinn Fein would naturally fit. The war is fading fast from the public mind, as wars invariably do. Sinn Fein, the one-time pariahs, are now the white hats of the political process. The European Elections on either side of the border will be fascinating, but an offhand comment on the Vincent Browne show from someone, I know not whom but I'm presuming a professional psephologist of the kind that only ever surface at time's like this, indicated that the Greatest Symbolic Prize of all could be within Sinn Fein's grasp.

Let's say Tony Blair does bring Direct Rule back to North, just to shut them up for a while. For Gerry Adams, his work is done. The hardliners will not be happy with a return to direct rule, but Adams and McGuinness have been spectacular in their success in selling peace to the hardliners, without getting Beal na Bláthed on the way. So, now that there is no more work to be done in the Six Counties, what can the most popular politician in the Republic in poll after poll do for an encore?

If Mary MacAleese doesn't run again, or if Fine Gael is sufficiently foolish to try and trigger an election, Gerry Adams could carry the Sinn Fein standard in a Presidential election. And, as things currently stand, he'd romp home as the first Sinn Fein member elected head of State since Eamon DeValera in 1919.

Bertie will not want to see that happen. But it could, it could. The day could come.