by Henry Hill
Monday, 14
February 2022
Debate
14:33

It’s time for Stormont to collapse

The current crisis could give Westminster a chance to implement reform
by Henry Hill
Credit: Getty

Northern Ireland’s institutions are on their knees. Again. And this time, according to the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, they might not come back.

Doug Beattie has warned that the Democratic Unionists are risking a long-term collapse of devolution by walking out of Stormont over the Brexit Protocols. That move, combined with the threat that the party would not form an Executive if Sinn Féin are the largest party, could mean that Stormont ceases to operate.

He may well be right, and if he is then Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and his party will rightly shoulder much of the blame. But confining our blame to the Unionists and the Government, and pretending that the current crisis is simply the result of decisions made since 2016 (or 2019), would miss the point and let many guilty parties off the hook.

After all, as mentioned, this is not the first time Stormont has fallen over. Sinn Féin have walked out on several occasions, such as in the wake of the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal or over having to implement the Coalition’s welfare reforms.

Every time this happens, the response of successive Secretaries of State has been to fly over and, after however many weeks of negotiations, basically bribe the parties to go back. Using the fragility of the institutions to extort concessions from London is part of the system.

The critical difference this time is that the DUP are holding out for something (reform of the Protocol) which is not in the unilateral gift of the British Government. Hence Beattie’s warning that this collapse might be permanent.

But it does make all the shroud-waving from Sinn Féin at their temerity in walking out a little hard to swallow. (Consider too all those people who insisted we couldn’t have a land border because republican terrorists might attack it and were then shocked that their loyalist counterparts took the point and withdrew consent for the Belfast Agreement over the sea border.)

Indeed, the current crisis has arisen in part directly from those earlier concessions. Because it was ultimately Westminster that, under New Labour, authorised the reforms which may produce a Sinn Féin first minister.

Until the St Andrews Agreement, the post was nominated by the largest caucus, unionist or nationalist, and not the largest party. Changing that rule has helped both the DUP and Sinn Féin squeeze the smaller parties — and may now see the latter secure the symbolically important ‘top job’ even if unionist parties return more MLAs overall.

Yet there may be a silver lining here. By collapsing Stormont in a manner which prevents the Secretary of State taking an easy, short-termist way out, the current crisis could give Brandon Lewis a chance to grasp the nettle of long-overdue reform.

And as negotiations about bringing devolution back drag interminably on, a period of direct rule would allow Westminster an opportunity to step in and take some hard decisions.

The local devocrats won’t like that one bit, of course. But that might just spur them to get Stormont back up and running.

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John Murray
John Murray
4 months ago

Truth is the Unionists aren’t particularly bothered with direct rule. Direct rule from Westminster is entirely consistent with Unionism as a matter of principle. The only thing that might concern them is if the readies get switched off, but bribing the locals to not cause too much trouble has been the standard approach and there is no reason to think it won’t continue.

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
4 months ago
Reply to  John Murray

I’m not entirely sure this is true. On a theoretical level, yes, on a practical level they don’t trust the English at all not to sell them down the river. Hence why they were more than content with the 1921-1972 arrangement.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ferrusian Gambit
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
4 months ago

‘We’ tried to get rid of the place in 1914, but that wretched Great War got in the way.
Churchill was particularly gung-ho at the time, even suggesting that the Royal Navy might shell Belfast into submission.

Last edited 4 months ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
4 months ago

It wasn’t the Great War. Home Rule was defeated by armed rebellion (the arms came from Germany and was openly supported by the Conservative Party), and the suborning of the Army.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

Invite Putin to invade it?
Or let the Irish have it and, like Hong Kong, allow NI people who don’t want to stay to move to the mainland U.K. with compensation. Cheaper than the current endless subsidy. All sorted.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ian Stewart
Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
4 months ago

You might consider an alternative argument. The boundaries of Northern Ireland were established in order to ensure a Protestant parliamentary majority. The percentage of Catholics is now approaching 50%. Collapsing Stormont would relieve Protestants from the threat of being ruled by the Vatican.* The Brexit dispute provides a handy cover for achieving that aim.

*I know, I know … but a lot of these eejits actually believe it.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
4 months ago

Sell the place, and Scotland, to Canada…

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
4 months ago

It is time for England to be free of this putrefying Albatross, that hangs around our neck.*

Clement Attlee managed to get rid of India in less than five months, surely we can do better?

(* Otherwise known as Northern Ireland.)

Frederick B
Frederick B
4 months ago

There are a million British people in Northern Ireland. You just want to abandon them?
I notice that you refer to “a stinking albatross that hangs around (England’s) neck.” Not Britain’s neck? Perhaps you are an English nationalist who also wants to dump those other “stinking albatrosses” of Scotland and Wales?
Well, why not? English nationalism is a coherent position which ought to be argued more than it is, but not at the expense of poor old Northern Ireland alone!

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
4 months ago
Reply to  Frederick B

I thought it was 1. 75 million?

Northern Ireland has, to put it mildly, been a major embarrassment ever since it was founded a century ago. It is time they stood on their own. We have expended enough blood and treasure there.

As to Scotland, yes again, another parasite we should be rid of.

Wales, is more vexed as the the ‘Devolution’ vote was extremely close, so perhaps wait and see.

Last edited 4 months ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
4 months ago

Close? the “resounding win” by the devolutionists was 0.06% of the vote – So what about the 2 boxes of voting slips which went missing?/ There are a few strongholds still supporting devolution but I think the results of the financial exercise will make most of us wary of going any further down that path. I can’t see any Welsh civil servants voting for a massive pay cut.

Stephen Magee
Stephen Magee
4 months ago
Reply to  Frederick B

Once more for the dummies: people in Northern Ireland are not British. The country of which Norn Iron is part is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
4 months ago

Hear hear!