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Good Friday Agreement is all there is

(Brian Feeney, Irish News)

They say the Magic Roundabout is due for a revival. If you remember, it was originally a French programme. For the BBC the puppets were all given names in English like Dougal and Dylan and Zebedee and then a script was written in English to fit around the actions of the puppets.

Of course the activities of the characters bore no resemblance to the script, but who cared?

Just in case you're wondering, no, the characters in Downing Street last week were not rehearsing for the Magic Roundabout revival. It's true the whole performance bore striking similarities to the Magic Roundabout – the characters walked on and off stage in strict rotation, there was a disconnection between the script and the action, everyone played exactly the role they've always played, they all went around in circles like the puppets and no character paid the slightest attention to any other character.

Despite all that evidence, they were not the Magic Roundabout but the north's politicians back in action, or inaction. They'll be circling each other for another four months at least. So get used to it if you aren't already. The characters are the same but there has been a change in the script which is worth noticing. Elections do influence politicians. They get to talk to voters every day and the voters give them messages.

In 2003 the message voters gave the DUP was that they didn't like the party to be negative and destructive. They should have some proposals to offer to resolve the political stalemate.

This time the message unionist voters sent was that they do not want to share power in resumed institutions and certainly not institutions where Sinn Féin is the dominant partner. As a consequence, the DUP is going to make the most of its newly-strengthened role in Westminster where its MPs will dominate the Northern Ireland Committee. They will not enter negotiations with SF until a year after the IRA issues its anticipated statement and then only after the so-called Independent Monitoring Commission has given the IRA a clean sheet.

In the meantime the DUP will push for a minimalist role for the assembly, 'scrutinising' our tanned and lovely proconsul and his district commissioners.

Here lies the elephant trap for nationalists. A 'scrutinising role' for the assembly is nonsense. It's no role at all. It's not in the agreement. It gives assembly members no power at all. They can prevent nothing. Worse, it is a ploy to avoid the operation of all-Ireland bodies. Remember, the agreement was carefully crafted so that no all-Ireland bodies, no assembly and vice versa.

The only proposal more stupid than a 'scrutinising role' is the SDLP's plan for appointing 10 of the great and the good to run the assembly departments. They complain English MPs sent over here have no votes in Ireland and are undemocratic, so they want people appointed who have no votes anywhere and would be even more undemocratic. Ridiculous. It gives assembly members no power at all and it's not in the agreement. Again of course it's selling the pass on all-Ireland bodies. Please let's hear no more of this embarrassment of an idea.

The danger is however that the pro-union NIO will advise that there should be some accommodation between the SDLP's ridiculous plan and the DUP's nonsensical plan. It is absolutely vital that Sinn Féin and the SDLP stand firm against any sort of the rolling devolution beloved of NIO officials. Anything to give an elected assembly the semblance of legitimacy. Why?

Simple. A gimcrack assembly is exactly what unionists want because it guarantees minimum change.

Nationalists have always wanted maximum change and that's why they always argue for a comprehensive deal. Since unionists want the opposite that's why they always argue against an all-embracing deal. Well, there is an all-embracing deal and it's called the Good Friday Agreement. Thankfully the Taoiseach has stepped in to say the agreement is all there is. It's been reviewed and the task is to get back to it. Now it's up to nationalist politicians to get together to prevent any tinkering with the dormant assembly because that's the DUP plan to avoid getting back to the agreement.

May 26, 2005

This article appeared first in the May 25, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News