None of the Stormont parties may be throwing their caps at the moon but they have all signed up to the ‘Stormont House Agreement’ (Why am I thinking Hugh Laurie?) to keep the roof over the Assembly for a while longer. A few things we can say as they wipe the sleep from their eyes.
1. The Welfare Cuts that Sinn Féin fiercely resisted have now been accepted – but there’ll be £2 billion that can be drawn on to soften the landing. But don’t think of it as David Cameron being Christmas-spirited: only about one-third is real money, the rest is stuff we’ll have to pay back. Sometime.
2. We’ll get control of corporation tax. The idea is that this will make the north attractive to big corporations so it’s fair to accept they’ll be happy paying less tax. The idea is that we’ll get loads and loads of jobs. Will we? Mmmm. Wait and see.
3. Money has been made to help victims and survivors of the conflict – but we’re still stuck with what is a victim. And there are all sorts of things like the Oral History Archive where people can tell their story, as they say. And there’s the Historical Investigations Unit (sound familiar) that’ll report in five years time. That sound you hear is a can being kicked up the boreen.
4. There’ll be an Independent Commission on Information retrieval set up by the UK and Irish governments. Information given to it, we’re told, will be protected from prosecution (sound familiar?) and it will have a 5-year life.
5. The Assemble will be smaller – from 108 MLAs to 90 MLAs – but not until the 2021 election.
6. There’ll be a civic advisory panel to the Northern Ireland Executive. This will give nice little earners to some of the really really smart people in our society. Most of whom will have degrees.
7. The Assembly can sell Belfast Harbour. It should get a few bob for that.
Is this a bright new dawn, a glowing star leading us to the promised land of compromise and respect for each other? Not a chance. We’ve got the money to keep going, but flags, marches and the past – we’ll go on struggling with those, starting with Twaddell Avenue. You might note that of the three, two are almost exclusively unionist obsessions. They will only be resolved when we say Yes to everything unionists demand. To end on an optimistic note: the day when nationaislm/republicanism rolled over and allowed unionist parades and flags to feature wherever the unionist politicians thought they’d like them: gone. Vanished. Never to return. Which is why parades and flags have been kicked about five years up the boreen. The hope is that by then, even the slowest of unionist learners will have got the message.
So it’s not the Promised Land yet, but we’ve got a road-map. Let’s see who has the brains to make the trip.