Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Saturday November 25
PANTOMIME season is in full swing and clearly this year’s most spectacular (and longest running) show was the one that opened in Stormont yesterday. The performance had everything — farce, exaggeration, elaborate song and dance routines and unexpected plot twists. We had the usual show-stoppers. Ian Paisley historically agreed to share power with Sinn Féin (‘Oh no I didn’t,’ roared the Reverend). There was Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern saying that when Ian Paisley said ‘no’, he really said ‘yes’ (‘Oh no I didn’t’).
There was the rare sight of the most ambiguous politicians in the universe, Bertie Ahern, fuming about the lack of clarity displayed by one of the most unambiguous politicians in the universe. And yes, to top it all, we had a cameo turn from the arch villain. Loyalist killer Michael Stone gave a grisly reminder of his murderous attack on Milltown Cemetery in March 1988 with his brazen storming of Stormont yesterday. The police later discovered six crude devices that needed to be defused — it brought a chill to the spine, reminding us all of the dark place where we could all return. This was an embarrassment that overshadowed the farce that preceded it. It being Christmas, we were treated to fudge. Loads of it. All year, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were saying that November 24 was the final deadline, that the two major parties would have to formally nominate their choices as first minister and deputy first minister designate on that date. Even after St Andrew’s, this strong line was being maintained. If there wasn’t a breakthrough, there would be dismantling, with both governments moving to Plan B. Peter Hain might not have a huge legion of admirers in the North but he coined a phrase last week that will worm its way into analysis pieces for years to come. “Belfast is Procrastination City,” he proclaimed, in frustration at the DUP’s antics all week. And being the North, there was the usual exhausting marathon of verbiage. In Dublin, Bertie Ahern described being up to the early hours of the morning working on an agreed sequence. Then he woke up yesterday to hear Paisley say a lot of things but nothing remotely connected to what he was supposed to say. “It would be nice today if we got clarity. Dr Paisley says he’s a man of simple words and today, he wasn’t,” he said. Ahern was as visibly frustrated as he has ever been about yesterday’s charade, and he made no effort to hide it. Blair, being Blair, desperately accentuated the positive. If Sinn Féin agreed to support policing, the DUP would share power, he said. The project is still on track was the message. The problem is that nobody is sure where the track is going. The strange thing is that the sequencing proceeded as if Paisley had committed himself to eventual powersharing. The speaker Eileen Bell deemed his speech an acceptance even though he clearly said the circumstances had not been reached where there could be a nomination or designation by his party on this day. He could have sang a couple of hymns in the chamber yesterday and it would have passed the unbelievably low threshold set by both governments. And this is the danger. Instead of the strong ultimatum we have been hearing all year, the two governments allowed the process to just about limp over the line yesterday, with absolutely no firm prospect that Sinn Féin and the DUP will ever share power. And for once, the roles were reversed. The SDLP, and the UUP in particular, have been the convenient whipping boys for years for the more hardline Sinn Féin and the DUP. Yesterday, they could indulge in some glorious verbal retaliation. Mark Durkan suggested deliciously that Sinn Féin and the DUP should “synchronise their U-turns”. For UUP leader, Reg Empey, there was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gloat at Paisley’s discomfort. Had he witnessed a marriage or an engagement? he asked before berating the Governments for accepting as a commitment the “codology that went on today”. Empey said that both Sinn Féin and the DUP had lost their separate arguments over policing and power-sharing but that none had the guts to make the statements that were required of them.And the Governments have lost a huge deal of credibility by tolerating all this tomfoolery, by not threatening to bring the curtains down on this farce.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tuesday 21 November 2007
It's 6.40pm on Tuesday evening in Leinster House. In our perch in the crow's nest at the top of the building, life is moving as slowly as a sloth whose drink has been spiked with rohypnol.
Out there beyond the lawns, beyond the city, beyond Dublin Bay, beyond the shores, there's a wider world. An anti-Syrian poltician in Lebanon has been assassinated. A Russian spy, cum refusenik, is fighting for his life in London after being poisoned by thalium. The situation in Darfur is depressing. And Iraq is Iraq - we seem innured to it nowadays unless hundreds are killed.
Here, though, there are more important fish to fry. In the television in the corner of the room, a live feed from the Dail chamber is busily churning out mostly useless verbiage. TDS are debating the Book of Estimates (Government spending plans for 2007) which was published last week. Someone is talking about AA Roadwatch and the westlink. I'm pretty sure that soon Charlie O'Connor will rise to his feet and make a long speech about Tallaght. When Tip O'Neill coined the phrase 'All politics is local', I'm sure he had the Irish parliament in mind.
When Albert Reynolds finally fell on his sword as Taoiseach, he complained that it was the little things that trip you up. That shouldn't have been any surprise. Because the little things dominate political and media discourse here to an inordinate extent. We sometimes forget how small Ireland is. The population of the entire country is less than that of many medium size cities in the US. And going back to AA Roadwatch, when you hear references to 'Hanlon's Corner' and the Red Cow Roundabout on national radio, you know about how, erm, intimate a place Ireland is.
Yep, it's as dead as vaudeville, to employ the glorious Raymond Chandler line.
A very brief introduction. I am the political editor of the Irish Examiner.
A very brief brief for this blog: Running commentary on politics.
A very brief summary of the choice of day to start it: inauspicious.
It will improve though. There is, despite the general sense of indolence here, an election in six month's time. And next week's Budget will provide - as we hacks love to write - the opening volleys etc etc.