Pessimism hangs over Stormont, but supporters say all is not lost

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The pessimism swirling around Stormont's marbled corridors yesterday was accompanied by something else, at once more surprising and more heartening: the feeling that this is not back to square one.

The pessimism swirling around Stormont's marbled corridors yesterday was accompanied by something else, at once more surprising and more heartening: the feeling that this is not back to square one.

The sense that Northern Ireland politics had suffered a serious setback was evident everywhere, but although there was pessimism the depression did not seem to amount to despair. This appears to be because the Good Friday Agreement still survives, though with the mothballing of the Assembly there is for the moment a huge gap in its superstructure.

And in addition to the continuing political process, at an even more fundamental level the peace process itself survives, battered and imperfect but still saving lives.

Some of the politicians drifting around Stormont yesterday, on its last day of power for some time were almost blasé in arguing that sometime next spring the executive can be dug out of the freezer and, as it were, microwaved back into life. It is the only way, they argued: all roads lead back to Stormont, a seat of power which holds an irresistible magnetism for the main parties. Those parties might heartily loathe each other, but they will have to make a deal if they want power back.

But this was a minority view. "Our party is evenly split," said a Trimble Unionist, "between those who think we'll be back within a year and those who think we'll never be back." A senior official shook his head. "At the moment there's so much bad blood around that I can't see it getting up again quickly. The general mood is pessimistic, worried."

In the gilded Central Hall Martin McGuinness, having answered questions as Education Minister for the last time, wore an unexpectedly broad smile. He seemed both philosophical and upbeat, wearing the air of a man who has gone through so many crises in his life that this one, though serious, is just the latest.

He made the point that much of stems from a crisis within Unionism as Protestants continue to grapple with the question of how to deal with the nationalists in society.

But there is also every sign that the republican movement has its own crises, or at least significant problems, in terms of continuing IRA activity and how it is damaging the process. Republicans face criminal charges in three separate jurisdictions – Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, and Colombia. The state of both Unionism and republicanism will, over the coming months, help to determine whether another power-sharing executive can be constructed.

Comments