The decision of the Ulster Unionist Party to seek to withdraw from the piss-weak simulacrum of government in Northern Ireland is not an indication of a party having finally rediscovered its moral and political purpose – or if it is, it’s an indication of a party finding its purpose by accident. Nevertheless, better late than never.
The sham of a political settlement in Northern Ireland has been apparent for any student of politics for the last eight years. A system which entrenches the sectarian headcount, which encases the problems of the society in a sickly aspic and which demands that everybody ‘just wait’ for democracy is not worthy of the western world, let alone worthy of the speck of land between the UK and Ireland. Being forced into the coalition of the unwilling-to-govern was a poor hand to be dealt to the UUP, and it’s interesting that the timing has allowed for this catharsis now.
The issue of whether the IRA exists or not is, as far as the issue of democracy is concerned, a canard; a non-issue. The provisional republican movement stopped trying to bomb the UK out of Northern Ireland and moved to the much more effective and legitimate political process to seek change. That’s a recognised fact and we’re all glad of it.
That they have a structure still in place to engage with former paramilitaries is entirely logical – better for them to have a direct line to the politicos than to be left hanging in the wind to be gobbled up by dissidents. But when identifiable members of that structure begin murdering inside the community (let’s stop calling it ‘their’ community, for we all live in this shared society), there is a legitimate cause for concern – but it’s a policing concern, or ought to be, rather than a reason to bring down Stormont.
Even if the IRA had disbanded and distanced itself from its past, the fetid failure of the DUP and Sinn Féin to actually progress government in Northern Ireland would have continued. They just aren’t up to the job – the thing that should have brought down Stormont should have been the observation that 108 politicians, their SPADs and their woefully unimaginative politics managed to do no better and frequently worse than Direct Rule.
The departure of the UUP should not bring down Stormont, but it should trigger D’Hondt again – and allow the SDLP and Alliance to consider whether, in the interests of democracy, a proper parliament with a proper opposition might achieve more for Northern Ireland than the current circle-jerk of whataboutery and abject failure.