It’s the elections, stupid – Declan Kearney on the Stormont talks

The Irish Government has damaged the Peace Process
LAST THURSDAY, the British Prime Minister engaged in the worst from of car-crash diplomacy, and his front-seat passenger was An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
After nearly ten weeks of talks which at no stage became a real negotiation, the two leaders arrived. That, and the tabling of their joint paper, could have heralded the start of a negotiation but this was never the plan.
Over three weeks ago, Sinn Féin said all the indications pointed towards the ground being prepared for a predetermined British document, with an Irish Government sign-off.
It was apparent for some time that a ‘take or leave it’ paper was potentially being drafted, the core of which would include the imposition of welfare cuts; increased austerity; fewer Executive departments and fewer MLAs: as well as dilution of Haass; and no movement on outstanding issues from the Good Friday Agreement and other agreements.
Sinn Féin told the Irish Government before An Taoiseach came that a potential moment of opportunity did exist and that a comprehensive talks outcome should not be squandered with a setback.
They were reminded that wider community and republican confidence in the political process had been undermined, and that national leadership was required from the Irish Government. Power-sharing, equality, the all-Ireland agenda, adherence to the Haass proposals, Acht na Gaeilge, Pat Finucane inquiry, and Maze/Long Kesh project were all set out as necessary and reasonable requirements – that is, they are already agreed. Kearney
These issues are a litmus test of the Irish Government’s determination to ensure the national and democratic position mandated in referendum advanced; the British sought primacy for its own and unionism’s agenda.
Instead, the paper signed off on by the Irish Government supported the latter.
It went from being a partner in talks to becoming a cheerleader for austerity in the North and the rolling back of the Good Friday Agreement.
The Haass proposals last winter provided a road map for political stability. Had the British Government and unionism agreed then, we would have been able to tackle our economic challenges now from a better position. At that time, Sinn Féin compromised on all our positions regarding the past, parades, and identity and flags. So too did the SDLP and Alliance Party.
The two governments’ paper takes unionist rejection of the Haass proposals and compliance with British Tory austerity as its starting point.
Their paper is aimed at getting Sinn Féin to compromise again on the very compromises which the party made during the Haass talks as a means to encourage unionism to perhaps begin compromising!
That’s really what Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan meant when he demanded “tough compromises” from Sinn Féin on Monday. His intervention, and yesterday’s exchanges in Leinster House, are the warm-up for an inevitable blame game led by the governments. Expect to hear from the British soon.
The two governments’ joint strategy was about trying to jump-start a phoney negotiation, in reverse gear. It didn’t work, so David Cameron walked out.
Given this British administration’s track record, that type of stroke is no surprise. Its focus is the Westminster elections, and trying to keep the DUP sweet.
However, it is a disgrace for any Irish Government to play fast and loose with the political process.
It has now turned away from its commitments to the Barron Inquiry requirements on the Monaghan and Dublin bombings, the Pat Finucane inquiry, and the Ballymurphy Massacre independent panel.
The paper the Irish Government jointly authored has accepted the primacy of British national security interests over truth for Irish citizens.
The rights of Irish citizens in the North have been fundamentally compromised by this Irish Government’s actions. It has broken faith with the Good Friday, Weston Park, St Andrew’s and Hillsborough Castle agreements.
The joint paper presented in the Irish Government’s name is a setback for Irish national and democratic interests.
The politics of last Thursday/Friday were eerily reminiscent of the mid-1990s when the British Tories and Fine Gael were also in power.
This Irish Government has behaved with reckless indifference towards the fate of the political process in the North, and all because of selfish electoral interests in the 26 Counties.