Gordon Brown v. Unionists v. Republicans v. Northern Ireland

This Will End Well?

No honestly, will it?

Gordon Brown flew to Belfast last night to try to resolve the dispute between republicans and Unionists that threatens Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive.

Mr Brown joined his Irish counterpart, Brian Cowen, after the two prime ministers spent the day in London discussing the Ulster crisis.

Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which share power, are in dispute over the transfer of police and justice powers from Westminster to Belfast.

The two leaders arrived for talks at Hillsborough Castle, official residence of the Northern Ireland Secretary, within hours of learning that Sinn Féin had threatened to withdraw if the powers were not transferred soon.

Such a move would bring down the executive and lead to fresh elections for the Northern Ireland assembly.

The parties were understood to be holding separate meetings with the two governments last night and the two prime ministers are understood to have cleared their diaries in anticipation of intensive exchanges with the rival politicians. Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, has accused his DUP partner in government, Peter Robinson, the First Minister, of delaying a decision.

The dispute came to a head yesterday at a meeting between the two men that lasted barely half an hour.

Afterwards, the DUP issued a terse statement: “Sinn Féin needs to remove any threat to collapse the Assembly. The community will not tolerate any party that seeks to drag us back to the bad old days.”

You missed out Brian Cowen, the Taoiseach. The talks are between him and Brown. And it will end well. There is far too much invested in the process now, particularly by the IRA, to go back. If you are interested, there was a good piece on RTE Radio yesterday outlining the political issues at stake. Just for context, the radio show is from the Republic and the editor interviewed is from the North. The paper, the Irish News, is printed in Belfast and is generally regarded as a nationalist paper but more in line with the SDLP and the civil rights movement and not the violent extremes.