Biden salutes a Good Friday Agreement that just isn’t working any more

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BELFAST ̵1; President Joe Biden arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday to salute the 25th anniversary of its US-brokered peace accord. But it would be an empty celebration.

Power-sharing between British unionists and Irish nationalists is a central approach to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. failure,

Northern Ireland has had no elected government for almost a year stormontThe grand Parliament House overlooking Belfast. It also has no annual budget – only red ink, rising in a sea of ​​procrastination. And thanks to Brexit, the UK’s most socially divided region this month loss of crores in annual EU funds that had sustained the poorest communities.

The Financial Council of Northern Ireland, created two years ago to advise Stormont after the previous government shutdown, Estimate An additional £808 million is needed this year to keep existing services running at a time of rising energy bills and wage demands.

Instead, the British government in London wants immediate spending cuts of up to £500 million. Its failure to deliver a 2023 budget in time for the new financial year, or to meet pledges to match the now-defunct EU funds, has led to cuts to local hospitals, schools and community groups and to cut staff Stop scrambling for services.

Who cuts expenditure when there is no authentic government? emergency legislation lays this burden on Westminster at 10 unelected permanent secretary Senior civil servants who were appointed to advise ministers impartially, did not directly take political decisions.

Finance is running low, the education department is already end holiday meal subsidy For schoolchildren from poor families – about a third of all students. In other departments, an average cut of 6 to 10 percent is being made. There is a stir among those who cut.

I should not be forced to play the role of a minister. It is an insult to democracy and it is politically unforgivable,” one of the permanent secretaries told POLITICO.

“Locally elected ministers must take these deeply consequential decisions if the power-sharing element of the Good Friday Agreement is to mean anything,” said the civil servant, who asked not to be identified because they are traditionally did not talk to Record for journalists.

“Until the power sharing is not working, London needs to take its responsibilities seriously. Refusal to act in a timely manner is unnecessarily making matters worse. We are harming the lives of so many people. It’s really embarrassing.”

The UK government insists it is right to expect sharp cuts now, arguing that financial problems were created by years of divided, indecisive Stormont governments that failed to make other difficult financial decisions.

“We have inherited a huge black hole,” said Steve Baker, a minister at Britain’s Northern Ireland Office. “It has not arisen overnight. It is the product of years of financial mismanagement and the expectation of frequent bailouts.

the infamous dup

Baker places primary blame on the Democratic Unionists, the main pro-British party in Northern Ireland, who refused to form a new unity government with Sinn Féin’s Irish republicans following last year’s Stormont Assembly election.

Democratic Unionists say they will barred indefinitely Stormont in protest against the UK’s Brexit treaty with the EU. This places Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, still subject to EU baggage regulations. From 2021, that policy allows continued cross-border trade with the Republic of Ireland. flowing freely – but at the cost of complex new controls on goods coming from Britain.

Federalists fear, and nationalists hope, these shifting trade winds will eventually help northern ireland push Out of the UK and into the arms of the Republic.

After two years of diplomatic wrangling, the UK government and the European Commission six weeks ago published a comprehensive agreement, the Windsor Framework, which greatly reduced the required EU checks on British goods arriving at Northern Irish ports. London and Brussels expressed the hope that this would be enough to revive Stormont.

But the famously stubborn DUP – which became the largest unionist party notably because it rejected the Good Friday deal and opposed a deal with Sinn Féin – is stay for moreand still would not re-enter Stormont with his opponents.

Once committed to the violent coup and abolition of Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein topped For the first time, the DUP preceded last year’s election, meaning its regional leader – party deputy chairman Michelle O’Neill – should be entitled to the top Stormont post of First Minister. The DUP’s loss of top-dog status has fueled unionist unease that Northern Ireland’s bonds with Britain could be irreversibly frayed.

can’t keep center

Liberal politicians blame both extremes for making Northern Ireland ungovernable. They suggest that the power-sharing rules devised a generation ago do not work in today’s harsh political landscape.

He argues that the central requirement should be reduced to an “essential alliance” between unionist and nationalist forces. The policy effectively gives the largest party from each sectarian bloc – the DUP and Sinn Féin for the last two decades – the power to block the formation of any government. As a result, hard liners have closed Stormont periodically over the past decade.

These rules have a particularly adverse effect on Northern Ireland’s most compromise party, the Alliance, which refuses to define itself as British unionist or Irish nationalist – and as a result power-sharing is perceived as irrelevance.

The Alliance was a marginal player in 1998, but made the biggest gains in last May’s election, finishing third with 17 assembly seats to Sinn Féin’s 27 and the DUP’s 25. non communal vote No Exactly count.

Some suggest the leader of the coalition Naomi Long Could sue the British government to force reforms.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long says the power-sharing rules of the Good Friday Agreement clearly allow for periodic reviews of the system Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

“I do not believe that our vote count compared to other people’s is legal,” Long said, citing legal advice that the prevailing rules violate European human rights law. “We stand ready to challenge a fundamental inequality at the heart of our government.”

Long says she hopes there will be no need for such a confrontation, stressing that the power-sharing rules of the Good Friday Agreement explicitly allow for periodic reviews of the system.

Time for a New Deal?

Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who worked with Britain’s Tony Blair to achieve the Good Friday success in 1998, also believes the time is fast approaching to dump the “essential coalition”. Instead, as advocated by recent think tank papers looking for ways To save Stormont, there would be a voluntary coalition – which Ahern eloquently describes as “what happens in a democracy”.

Such a change would mean that Sinn Féin and the DUP would retain rights to lead the Stormont coalition together as the largest parties on either side of the divide. But if either one was refused, they could not prevent the formation of a different government combination. This would open the door for more liberal politicians to once again represent their communities.

But while Sinn Féin has said it would be open to talks on making the rules more flexible, the DUP has ruled out surrendering its veto.

for the reporter who famously broke the news A quarter of a century after the Good Friday Agreement, Stormont’s ongoing inability to build a stable culture of partnership has made this week’s anniversary bitter.

Stephen Grimason, at the time political editor for BBC Northern Ireland, became Stormont’s chief spin doctor for 15 years. He worked with a group of DUP and Sinn Féin ministers who, in his view, often avoided difficult decisions that would have provided a strong, reformist government.

“Looking back, there’s this emptiness in the pit of my stomach that we had all the opportunities,” They told Belfast Telegraph last week. “We miss every single one of them.”