No longer centre of global stage

PARADES and emblems continued to dominate proceedings as each delegation paraded in and out of Hillsborough Castle demanding the emblematic capitulation of the other.

The North has seen many crisis-points like this in its bloody and bitter recent history, where deadlines and all-night negotiations fuse while the rolling news channels wait breathlessly in the dark and the cold for the live feed and the breakthrough to emerge.

But time moves on and the tides of history and global attention are lapping away from the North as fresh horrors command centre stage.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown really does have better things to do with his time. Helmand province in war-torn southern Afghanistan is occupying his draining authority far more than the province surrounding Hillsborough should be at this stage.

The British are losing two soldiers a week in the dust and disaster of Helmand, that’s another 500 young troops set to meet their doom there before the proposed Anglo-American pull-out in five years’ time.

Mr Brown needs to be at a major international conference in London tomorrow to try and plan an exit strategy from that quagmire. Not here in the North, not caught in the crossfire of a political establishment brought in from the extremes by the lure of power who continue to snipe at each other as fresh extremists grow and fester on the territory of no compromise Sinn Féin and the DUP surrendered for the keys to Stormont.

Justice and policing remain the last hurdles to the settlement, a budget of €900m awaits the department, but the DUP fears the emblematic power of this final act of devolution as they fear the security structure coming under the influence of the Republican enemy its former reincarnation once tried to crush.

A brinkmanship breakthrough on the abolition of the Parades Commission demonised by the Orange Order is therefore demanded as a scalp of distraction to appease the no-sell out merchants gaining strength in the brooding form of Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV).

Britain’s key terror concern does not come from the threat projected by the dissident republicans who deliberately targeted a PSNI officer simply because he is an Irish-speaking Catholic with a love for GAA. Exactly the kind of societal normalisation they seek to destroy.

London’s pressing and growing terror threat is from an educated, middle-class elite radicalised by fundamental Islam who carry out their war as blow-back from Bush/Blair invasion of Iraq. Suddenly, Yemen is the chaotic hub in danger of falling into fully fledged failed state zone and spewing out more attackers like the Christmas Day bomber who tried to down a airliner over Detroit after training in London with Yemeni connections lurking in the background. And Mr Brown should have been spending the past few days preparing for a second global gathering on the Yemeni threat rather than settling into the sumptuous surrounds of Hillsborough castle.

But justice matters, justice is political. You only have to look to Dublin for that as Brian Lenihan finally signed off on the stalled promotions of 170 Garda officers. Was it a necessary economic blockage or a subtle form of soft power, informing the structure of command in the force their career progress depends on the whim and say-so of the Finance Minister?

In a North emerging from an emergency situation of three decades of rampant violence and one decade of uneasy peace, the complications are multiplied a thousand-fold. The new powers over justice and policing coveted and relished. The new influence and authority redolent with the threat of menace, the prospect of control.

DUP hardliner Sammy Wilson dismissed it as a “contrived crisis”, but the two Premiers would not have put their agendas on hold for showmanship.

Both need the North to work, it remains the one undisputed achievement of their respective parties’ long reigns in office on either side of the Irish Sea.

If the polls are to be believed, both are political dead men, seemingly walking to their electoral executions as soon as their embittered voters get the chance to inflict the punishment they feel they deserve for a litany of economic and social mistakes across the past decade and a half.

The British election campaign is already underway and power sharing threatened to be its first casualty.

Despite commanding a 10 point lead over Labour, Conservative leader David Cameron is keenly aware the unfairness of the Westminster system means a hung parliament remains the most likely outcome.

The scramble to clamber together a Commons majority has already begun with his attempt to push a DUP/Ulster Unionist pact which would deliver a handy dozen seats to prop-up his dream of attempting to bring Britain Thatcherism with a human face.

The move immediately lifted DUP morale and the spectre hanging over them of a rout at the polls in the wake of the hypocrisy and hubris swirling around the Robinson marriage exposed by revelations of Iris Robinson’s affair with a 19-year-old and the allegations of financial wrong-doing it unleashed.

With the broken remnants of the old unionist ruling class in their pockets, the DUP knows it can hold-off the assault from the TUV and prevent the First Minister’s post falling into the hands of Sinn Féin as the biggest party.

Hence, the frantic diplomacy of the past few days. The attempt at trading policing powers in early May for a transformed parading situation.

Hillsborough is a quaint little town of stone cottages and inviting inns. It is the embodiment of Margaret Thatcher’s mantra that Northern Ireland is as British as Surrey.

It certainly looks like Surrey, but here, where the last quarter century of ceasefires, power-sharing experiments and tribal backlashes began with the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, finally comes the moment where the heirs of the planter and the Gael can carve their joint destiny together, if they choose to.

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