John Manley: It looks like Gerry Adams will stand back and watch British politics turn in on itself

Gerry Adams could be happy to let Stormont be mothballed. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

It was a thrilling election finale. A long, subdued campaign suddenly gave way to a gripping, bleary-eyed climax.

Here in the north, it saw the consolidation of the big two’s dominance while all but crushing the last life out of two key sponsors of the Good Friday Agreement.

In Britain, the results spectacularly dashed the hopes of Theresa May and unexpectedly shifted the axis of power.

Thursday was the second hare-brained, Tory-driven excursion to the polls within 12 months that was designed to bring stability but instead ensured uncertainty.

Had David Cameron not foolishly opted for an EU referendum we wouldn't be in the midst of this upheaval and the DUP would not now find itself propping up the weakest British government for decades.

Exactly what that 'confidence and supply' deal will yield for Arlene Foster is so far speculation.


The party's pragmatic, pro-business elements will seek money for infrastructure and perhaps greater powers for Stormont but there are also fears that access to Downing Street will result in concessions to unionist sectional interests.

Republicans have played down the implications of Theresa May's courtship of the DUP, suggesting the relationship is unlikely to be long-term.

But the arrangement may nonetheless work to Sinn Féin's advantage if it increasingly casts the DUP as complicit in the Tories' austerity agenda.

It has yet to be overtly stated but increasingly it looks like Gerry Adams is contented to stand back and watch British politics turn in on itself.

Such a 'chassis strategy' may hurt its own constituency in the north initially but perhaps the Sinn Féin president ultimately believes unification is more likely to result from upheaval than stability.

This scorched earth approach leaves little prospect of getting Stormont up-and-running again soon but voters have certainly not punished the party to date for bringing the structures down.

In the immediate future, the DUP will likely also thumb its nose at republicans as it wields power in London. However, if the executive and assembly are mothballed for any length of time and the question of salaries is raised, its 28 MLAs and associated staff are likely to become restless.

It's a lot to ask and it no doubt sounds rather glib but what's required in this increasingly polarised situation is real leadership.

Rather than retreating to the trenches and seeking to safeguard their own political futures, the DUP and Sinn Féin leaders need to demonstrate foresight and a willingness to compromise.

With their respective political opponents all but wiped out there's little to motivate the big two to be conciliatory, but being entrenched is always the easy option.

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