For those of you that have been following Stormont Crisis No. 3,876 then you're probably aware of just how nauseatingly boring, drawn out and pathetic the entire pantomime has now become. I would also add infuriating and exhausting to the lexicon of how to describe the current 'leadership' of our devolved political institutions. It would be laughable if it weren't so serious and sinister.
We have a rump of a Government left with the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein now the only remaining parties of a dysfunctional Northern Ireland Executive that is refusing to convene amid the current crisis relating to the murder of Kevin McGuigan last month and Gerard 'Jock' Davison in May of this year. The DUP and UUP have suddenly become aware of the world's worst kept secret - that the Provisional IRA are still in existence - and that paramilitarism is something serious and to be combated despite the writing literally being on the wall that numerous paramilitary groupings such as the UVF, UDA and indeed various incarnations of the IRA are very much alive and well.
It doesn't take more than a five minute journey to either Twaddell Avenue in North Belfast, Sandy Row in South Belfast, Ballybeen Estate in East Belfast or Poleglass in West Belfast to understand the hold that existing and unabashed paramilitary groups have over their local communities. This isn't something new and the DUP's attitude towards paramilitarism has chopped and changed with each passing electoral cycle. It wasn't long ago that the UUP and DUP stood shoulder to shoulder with the UPRG, the political and advisory wing of the Ulster Defence Association (a proscribed organisation) in the failed Unionist Forum project in 2013. The difference between those Loyalist organisations and the Provisional IRA is that we had been promised in 1997 that they had been on ceasefire and in 2005 that they had ended their military operations permanently, all as a precursor to the St Andrews Agreement in 2007 and paving the way for the devolution of local government in Northern Ireland and the peace we currently have.
The police investigation into the murders of Mr. Davison and Mr. McGuigan must be allowed to continue without political interference but yet again this is Northern Ireland and politicians just can't pass up the opportunity to create drama and headlines.
The resignation of the Ulster Unionist Party from the Northern Ireland Executive did little to change things however it now looks as though their sole portfolio, the Department of Regional Development, will now go to the DUP. The Former/Current/Former First Minister Peter Robinson has indicated that all DUP Ministers that have resigned will be renominated every seven days and immediately resign them again and again until the British Government suspends the NI Assembly. So currently we have a Government that has collapsed but hasn't collapsed and an Assembly that has been boycotted by the DUP who have held onto the First Minister post and avoided elections by giving the portfolio to Arlene Foster to act as a 'Gatekeeper' against Sinn Fein and the SDLP. We currently have no Ministers in charge of Health, Housing, Transport or Investment. Not only are the DUP wasting our time and money with this charade but they have left those departments rudderless and with no ability to sign off on proposals and funding.
Yet again we have a talks process that hasn't started yet because Unionists have set out multiple agendas (Mike Nesbitt's insistence that he will bring his own agenda to the talks despite walking out because his agenda wasn't top of the agenda last time is just ridiculous now) and preconditions before they will enter into any talks. It's growing more and more likely that whilst this lame duck Assembly rumbles on with half a Government and no desire from Unionists for it to actually operate the Prime Minister and Secretary of State will be forced to suspend it and allow talks to begin.
The DUP are obviously desperate to avoid an election (with the UUP outflanking them by resigning the Executive a week before them and gaining two MPs in May they are snapping at the heels of the DUP) and it's clear that they would rather the Assembly collapses and Direct Rule is enforced so as to alleviate the burden of sharing power with Republicans and wrangling with economic issues such as welfare reform and their increasingly diminishing ability to justify the block on changes to social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. It would be very easy for a few NI parties to allow the UK Government to take the wheel and implement changes over the head of locally elected politicians and then wash their hands of any responsibility when faced with opposition from their constituents.
It's clear that we deserve better than this, these people are paid and elected to govern and represent Northern Ireland. Not just to their support base but to investors, world leaders and the next generation of young people that have indicated that they want to leave Northern Ireland rather than stay here. I'm one of those people who has often looked to further shores for a job because who the hell would want to invest in this shambles? I suspect that the institutions will be suspended and we will revert to Direct Rule and whilst that may be what some people want the last thing I want is unaccountable Conservative Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office having the last say on things like funding for community projects, the running of our local health service, public sector job cuts, welfare reform and so on. What we need is reform of our institutions, not complete abolition of them or another election to the same bloated and dysfunctional structures just so we can have the same arguments all over again.