Talk of the current ‘Plan B’ for Northern Ireland, by which both Britain and Ireland will take joint authority in the state has been hot and heavy since yesterday, when Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair laid out their plan for a return to devolution. In it the final part, which will come into effect if no agreement is made by November 24th, it says that both Governments will present details of the dual-rule in a summit in December 2006.
Obviously any interference by the Republic of Ireland will come to the dismay of Unionists; this is the thing they are trying to protect the six counties from at all times. While the threat to Sinn Fein is less obvious it should be noted that they too stand to lose, power and money that is. From a British point of view, and this is meant in the nicest of terms, Irish input is a thing of more positivity than negativity as recent years have shown.
One side of the tale that is harder to define, however, is the Irish one. Ahern is sure to have a fair idea of what joint-stewardship will mean should it come into effect; will it be the Sunningdale Agreement all over again and if so has the political tide moved enough since the 70′s for it to be deemed acceptable in Unionist circles? Will this next step be met with protests, strikes and even violence? Perhaps it won’t even be visable or significant. Some, probably including the DUP believe it to be a bluff and that such a change could not happen, especially considering the changes made to the Irish constitution in light of the Good Friday Agreement.
Assuming joint authority is more than a bluff you have to wonder what the Irish Government feels about it. Some Unionists are likely to picture the cabinet licking their lips at the prospect, seeing the input as step 1 in a modern land grab for the North. Thinking logically about it they are probably going to be less optimistic. They are sure to face some roadbumps and anger and given that they refuse to allow MLA’s to attend the Dáil because of the anger it would cause in Northern Ireland they are unlikely to want to be seen as the part-rulers of a country that for the majority doesn’t want them.
It’s hard to see devolution back on the tracks before the end of November and frankly it would be better to stick to the deadline under any circumstances than to change it again so perhaps by December we will have a better idea of what is in store for Northern Ireland and how Bertie Ahern feels about it.