Well, Ian and Marty’s love-in at Stormont yesterday went off as planned, and apparently the brave new dawn for Norn Iron begins here. Except, notwithstanding the international press corps, Mr Tony, Bertie, and the boosterism of our relentlessly upbeat local media – determined that this time it’s going to work – the general mood seems to be one of boredom rather than euphoria. What one hears is not so much “At last! At last!” as “About bloody time”. Don’t get me wrong – most people still support the peace process, and that alone is enough to keep it afloat a while yet, but there is a terrible amount of cynicism about.
It was striking, listening to the Radio Ulster coverage of the restoration yesterday, that both Nolan and Dunseith were having trouble finding callers with much positive to say about the new dispensation. In fact, the most vocal contributors were unionist backwoodsmen who, one sensed, were opposed to power-sharing as a general principle. Nolan had on a spokesmen for disabled cops, who talked a bit about how his constituents were feeling – which was fair enough – but then went off on a ramble about how MLAs should have to swear allegiance to the Queen and how the Union Jack should fly over government buildings at all times. He was followed by a rural fundamentalist who gave out that the DUP had entered Stormont to stop the Brits passing immoral legislation – he had been told this personally by Singing Willie – but now Edwin Poots was going to give the gays three grand for their parade.
Of course, these guys aren’t representative, any more than the three (count ‘em!) small demos at Stormont. There is nobody in the Assembly to the right of Big Ian, in fact no substantial opposition from any quarter. And two of the three demos – the water rates one and mad loyalist Willie Frazer – were lobbying the Assembly, while the SWP and anarchists just wanted to shout at Mr Tony over Iraq. Outright opposition is very much a minority taste, and even most of those who seem oppositional are within the Big Tent of the peace process to some extent.
My gut feeling is that the Assembly will be stable, for a while at least. And the lack of any great expectations may actually work in devolution’s favour – when you don’t expect much, there isn’t likely to be a backlash from disappointed punters. The big question is, will this Executive be as awful as the last one?
Update 10.05.07: My spies inform me that there were not three but in fact five small demos at Stormont. A contingent of republicans came down from Derry to protest against this imperialist settlement, so they at least got the point. And there was a bloke from Fathers 4 Justice, but unfortunately he had nobody to hold the other end of his banner. Nor was he dressed as Spider-Man, which is a bit of a disappointment.