After reaching for the stars at Queen’s this week, let’s get down to earth

What do we expect to get out of this week’s conference at Queen’s to commemorate the GFA? More lofty exhortation certainly. Bill and Hillary Clinton have already begun. More sour sniping from some unionists?  Ditto.  But most of the political world will at least pass themselves, moved to courtesy and respect at the appearance of the seriously ailing 89 year old George Mitchell. Blair, Ahern  and striking a  contemporary  note, Sefcovic of the EU ( representing the  new third force in NI rule)  and yes, Rishi Sunak  at Wednesday’s banquet  complete the star line up so far .

The cast and the agenda revealed, register two points.

One, that the establishments of the UK, Ireland and the US are not about to let the Good Friday Agreement go. It will survive. And two, the gap between their aspiration and local achievement is as wide as ever. Few tangible ideas have yet risen to the top for narrowing it. It is not at all clear that they will emerge this week.  The aim seem to be that somehow he atmosphere of hope recreated at the conference will inspire today’s leaders to breathe new life into it. How very American (Democratic side)

People here are either reach for the stars or are stuck in the mud of our failed politics. The ground in between is out of their sight. The Constitution Unit of UCL has provided a fair summation of where we are at now. (Leave aside the whacky idea of triplet first ministers; all that disciplined analysis going nowhere must have driven them a little crazy)

If the Windsor Framework was designed as a carrot for the DUP which they have yet to digest, the stick is a 6.9% cut in the draft budget which the civil servants are objecting to being forced to implement.

The optimal outcome  under the circumstances would be for the DUP to  slip back to the Assembly to help out  further  easements of the  import –export process obligingly agreed between UKG and  the EU, plus the beginnings  an international  investment  plan to take advantage of dual access to our markets. At the moment every word of this is a pipe dream.

If it’s a no show by the DUP after next month’s council elections, the two governments should adopt Biden’s one piece of political advice and reconvene the British- Irish Intergovernmental Council. Properly speaking this covers only on non– devolved matters; but since when have the Irish failed to comment on Strand One politics if not policies? The revived relationship would give cover for a temporary period of direct rule which UKG has not hesitated to exercise over the last few years ad hoc – with lots and lots of consultation of course. Just as long as something gets done. At the same time talks should begin to focus on the degree of reform necessary to retain a functioning Assembly. This would be last chance both governments would be able to seize before their own elections. It should not be missed.

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