OK Mr Heaton Harris. Give the DUP yet another few more days. Then drop the humbug and handover that £3 billion. You have no honourable alternative

Perhaps the DUP will make the leap, perhaps they won’t. What has long been clear is that the tactics of both party and government are humbug. The DUP  could exercise far more effective pressure on smoothing over the frictions of the Windsor Framework from within a united Assembly.

Suzanne Breen has a good guess about the state of play.

 While there was no vote, my interpretation from what has been said is that Carla (Lockhart) currently doesn’t support accepting a deal, Edwin (Poots) was a soft no, and Gregory (Campbell) is on the fence.”.. East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson, Lord Dodds, Strangford MLA Michelle McIlveen, and party chairman Lord Morrow are said to believe that the deal on offer from the Government falls far short of what is needed to restore devolution.

Newton Emerson lost patience long ago

What has been most pathetic about Jeffrey Donaldson’s dithering over a Stormont deal is how little unionist dissent he is likely to face.

Sammy Wilson and Nigel Dodds are the only DUP big hitters who might become outspoken critics of the leadership. While that would be embarrassing, no party should find two errant members unmanageable – and Wilson is thumbing his nose at the leadership anyway.

The Windsor Framework remains a bitter pill for unionism to swallow. Perhaps Donaldson’s ultimate mistake has been pretending he can sugar-coat it, setting himself the impossible task of creating a sea border unionists can love.

 He could instead say the framework is terrible but the Stormont boycott has achieved all it can, Labour will achieve more and many of the sea border’s complexities are so absurd they will unravel regardless.

The government’s pretence that  their hands are tied is an insult to our intelligence.  If their problem is taking unilateral action, take a look  at the Legacy Act which they imposed in the teeth of opposition from all local parties, Labour and the Irish government. Pressure is mounting on Heaton Harris to do more next week than postpone an Assembly election.  Emerson in the Irish News continues:

Patience with indirect rule appears to have finally run out at the Northern Ireland civil service.

Jayne Brady, Stormont’s top mandarin, has written to Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris urging him to make pay awards and set budgets to address the “deteriorating and frankly untenable position we are now in”.

She reminded him: “You have publicly stated that the UK Government cannot and will not stand by and allow public services and finances to decline further

Former head of the NICS David Sterling  muses sadly on X

Strolled past Stormont today, a place I’ve been through 100s of times (good days and bad!) Despite the bright sunshine, there’s a sad end of days feel in the air. Can’t help thinking if the Assembly has met for the last time, it will be Unionists who come to regret it the most.

The former Brexit lead for the NI Civil Service Andrew Mc Cormick has long been an outspoken critic of  the government’s approach  Here he goes the whole hog to cut through the obfuscation.

Whatever may be the rights or wrongs of the resignations of the ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive, the worst feature (now, and as also was the case in 2017-2019) is the abdication by the UK Government of its inherent responsibility to govern.

The present situation is an affront to democracy and an unprecedented departure from constitutional principles.

Devolution means the delegation of power. But it does not mean that the supreme governmental authority can or should abrogate its ultimate responsibility for any part of the UK.

Under the devolution settlements, the UK Parliament explicitly retained the power to legislate, even in devolved matters, and during the periods when there has been no functioning Executive, essential and ad hoc legislation has proceeded.

Ministers say time and time again that they are unable to intervene to address issues such as public sector pay or the crisis in public services because they do not have the necessary powers. That is nonsense — they do not have statutory powers because they have abdicated from the inherent responsibility that any national government has to act to ensure that there is a basis for executive decision-making in all parts of the realm.

The obvious alternative that is available to the government is re-assume direct responsibility for executive decision-making in Northern Ireland.

The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement does not make any provision for direct rule, though the reality (before 2017) was that it was always clear that a breakdown in the operation of the institutions created in 1998 would make it a necessity.

The role of the British Irish Governmental Conference is part of Strand 3 of the Agreement, which means that that council is explicitly excluded from engagement in the internal administration of Northern Ireland, as part of the point of Strand 1 of the Agreement was (and is) to assure unionists that the Irish government has no decision-making role in that context.

That does not exclude the possibility of the UK Government consulting the Irish government on any issue, as long it retains sole responsibility for any and all decisions taken.

Our leading academic analyst Katy Hayward believes that faced with a continuing DUP boycott, the initiative must lie with  Westminster. She calls on government to release  the conditional funding and take on the responsibilities of government.  She accepts the DUP’s dilemma with reluctance.

At root, DUP demands to be asked for their ‘consent’ are a quest for more security in an increasingly uncertain context for unionists. This relates both to its protest at the UK-EU Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (which introduced new post-Brexit trading rules and practices between Northern Ireland and Great Britain) and to concerns as to the significance of a nationalist party being the largest in the Assembly.

Indeed that latter point may explain why not only strong unionists (88%) but also a significant portion of softer unionists (37%) disagree that the Assembly should be fully-functioning even now the UK has secured adjustments to the Protocol via the Windsor Framework. The wariness of that cohort of strong, anti-Windsor Framework unionists cannot be ignored. It stands at about 30% of the active electorate, even as Northern Ireland society is becoming less unionist as a whole.

In making a decision about a return to Stormont, the DUP wants to keep as much of that strong unionist support, while recognising that functioning devolution is necessary to keep NI in the Union longer term. The intensity of this conundrum helps explain the reluctance of the DUP leadership to make a decision, or even to accept the Secretary of State’s assertion that their side-talks have come to an end.

So, whether its talks with the DUP have ended or failed, the UK government needs to make a decision. Cushioning a single party from electoral realities and legislative responsibilities does not equate to upholding NI’s place in the Union. If more emergency legislation is resorted to, it should surely do more for Northern Ireland than postpone Assembly elections again. The government has acknowledged the ‘range of pressing issues’ that need to be addressed and it has prepared a good financial package to facilitate that. Allowing much-needed treatment to be given would not be a sign of weakness but an act of a responsible government.

This  present Assembly standoff is hardly the moment to start a serious discussion on  Assembly reform to reduce the power of the mutual veto and make another collapse less automatic. There are plenty of ideas like introducing supermajorities to elect the Speaker and keep the Assembly and Executive functioning for six months if a single party  were to withdraw again. But as ever we come up against the little matter of mutual consent in whatever form.

Westminster like the rest of us are forced to wait a few more days for the DUP to come good or falter again.  Then they should drop the humbug, grasp the nettle  and take up executive powers for defined period of time leading to an Assembly election.  Start spending that  £ 3 billion they are shamefully withholding  for the benefit of the long suffering people  who deserve better – however they vote.

Will they? I don’t hold my breath.  So easy to imagine CHH  postponing an Assembly election with his usual furtive delivery of a guilty man cheating at poker.  My only thin consolation is that Northern Ireland is not alone in making a  mess of its politics. Think UK,US, to some extent Germany, France etc . The list goes on. The times they are a-festerin’.

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