Ireland: Power-sharing deal hangs in balance

Issue 

The agreements that helped end decades of armed conflict in the six counties in Ireland's north still claimed by Britain are hanging in the balance over a lack of progress in their implementation.

The media have focused on the "sex-and-loans" scandal involving Democratic Unionist Party leader and Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson and his wife, also a DUP politician.

However the agreements, which involve the DUP and the republican party Sinn Fein sharing power in a devolved assembly, were already close to collapse due to the continued refusal of the pro-British DUP to allow the implementation of key agreements.

Sinn Fein has accused the DUP of blocking progress on agreements to further devolve power from Britain and advance equality for all citizens in the six counties.

Sinn Fein has also said that because the British and Irish governments were signatories to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and the 2007 St Andrews Agreement, and had a responsibility to ensure agreed policies are carried out.

A key source of tension is the failure to carry out the 2007 agreement to devolve police and justice powers from Britain to the assemby. The existing police and justice institutions are widely distrusted by republicans and the Catholic minority for their history of human rights abuses and anti-Catholic sectarianism.

Sinn Fein's paper,An Phoblacht, said on January 14 that "the DUP's refusal to operate the political institutions on the basis of equality and partnership and the failure to agree on the transfer of powers over Policing and Justice had resulted in political impasse and crisis".

On January 12, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the DUP's actions "has led to a considerable lack of public confidence in the political institutions", An Phoblacht reported.

The paper, which described the Robinson scandal as "a distraction", said "other commitments relating to the equality agenda and the Irish Language are in default. This is not acceptable."

Negotiations are now occurring between Sinn Fein and DUP representatives over the impasse. Some commentators have speculated that a renewed impetus for the DUP to negotiate is to avoid fresh elections, which would have unpredictable results.

As well as a potential voter backlash over the Robinson scandal, electoral support for Sinn Fein has been growing. In the 2009 European elections, Sinn Fein secured the highest votes of any party in the six counties.