Monday marks the return of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. But before we deem this "progress," let's review the last week: Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams nominates his archrival Rev. Ian Paisley to lead the new government, and Paisley tells Adams to take his endorsement and shove it. The widespread acrimony among the major parties in Belfast leads to a postponement in an actual vote on leaders; MPs will meet on Monday and immediately adjourn to a garden party. A 15 year old Catholic boy is killed in a sectarian attack in Ballymena.
I'm as keen as anyone to see the government in Belfast back on its feet. But a number of events in recent months - most notably Sinn Fein #3 Denis Donaldson's outing as a longtime British spy (casting suspicions on the reasons for the 2002 suspension of the NI Assembly) and then his brutal murder - have tensions and suspicions running on high. Centrist parties like the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists are in the minority. Sinn Fein and Paisley's DUP seem unlikely to put aside their perpetual suspicion of one another and move forward as partners.
So why press for a power-sharing government now, if the situation seems particularly tense? It's simple. Tony Blair needs a legacy.
He just lost big in the local elections. Members of his party are calling for him to step down. He's been forced to reshuffle his cabinet. There's the mess in Iraq.
So Blair has been arranging to have all British troops moved out of Northern Ireland by autumn 2007. Then he'll step down. Per Oliver Marre in The Observer:
The Prime Minister has decided that the only way to eclipse Iraq in people's minds is for some sort of grand military manoeuvre before he leaves office and, in fairness, his activity in Northern Ireland to date has been pretty successful,'...