Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Cat Flap or Crisis?

Not for the first time in his life, Danny Morrison has set the cat among the pigeons. The former Sinn Féin publicity director penned a piece on the website, suggesting that the power-sharing administration at Stormont was teetering perilously close to collapse.

A range of politicians and commentators have been at pains recently to downplay any talk of crisis. Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC that he wouldn’t call it that [a crisis], “but clearly there are a lot of difficulties to overcome.” Secretary of State Theresa Villiers pointed out that work was still going on in the Executive and that disagreement was “a fact of life in any coalition”. First Minister Peter Robinson recommended that “Everyone should cool their jets.”

As the shrill whine of Robinson’s engines fades away, though, I can hear above it the piercing screech not of Morrison’s  but of Schrödinger’s cat.

The Austrian quantum physicist, Erwin Schrödinger, devised a theoretical experiment to expose the flaws in the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics; ‘Copenhagen’ held that – until observed – a particle existed in all states simultaneously. However, in his experiment, involving a hypothetical cat in a box, along with a bottle of poison and some radioactive material, Schrödinger pointed out that in reality – whether observed or not – the cat could only be either dead or alive, not both at the same time.

So either there is a crisis at Stormont or there isn’t. It doesn’t matter how obvious or obscured it is, nor by whom or from where the situation is observed. If one of the main parties says things are critical – and the evidence suggests that they are – then that should be good enough for all of us.

Having left Sinn Féin, Morrison no longer speaks ex cathedra but, while no longer the messenger, he is surely still ‘on message’. That makes his admission to despondency all the more worrying. He already appears resigned to losing the Maze/Long Kesh development, with its promised 5,000 jobs and £300m of investment. More disturbingly, Morrison fears that the whole power-sharing edifice could crumble with it. “I hope I am wrong,” he told the Mallie website, “but I suspect that the Assembly could collapse. If unionists are thinking this cannot happen, they should think again.”

Think again indeed. A common or garden tabby has the sense to look before it leaps. If the Stormont structures collapse again, we have some – but only some – idea what will replace them. Direct rule from London. Input from Dublin. Theresa Villiers at the steering wheel. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore navigating.

Hold that thought for a moment. Gilmore’s been criticised for his ‘hands-off’ approach to the North (the suspicion is that he couldn’t be bothered). Villiers has been accused of being “semi-detached”. Such has been her impact in Northern Ireland, she was introduced to her own party conference as “the Secretary of State for Scotland”. For the more literate among us, Plan B is starting to read more like Plan Z.

More pious MLAs may be aware of Christ’s warning that “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid  waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” (Matthew 12:25) The omens don’t look good. If we can’t find comfort in religion or science, can we really expect to get it from our politicians?

Our representatives have played cat and mouse long enough. It’s time to get sensible; time to get real. If they don’t, it won’t be a US envoy Stormont will need, it’ll be a vet – to put it out of its misery.

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