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Brian Feeney: Brokenshire is useless

Secretary of State James Brokenshire Picture Mal McCann.

We’re told our proconsul for the time being is not going to Washington for St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

That news calls to mind Dorothy Parker’s remark on being told in 1933 that US President Calvin Coolidge had died. She asked, ‘How can they tell?’

How will anyone know whether the proconsul is in DC or Stormont or Westminster?

You can hardly dignify him with the description politician. He’s such a lightweight he rose without trace, a man promoted for unthinking loyalty to Theresa May in her silly futile mission to reduce immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ as David Cameron had promised in 2010.

Cameron knew there was no chance but poor Theresa May believed his promise and tried to deliver it while everyone except herself and our proconsul knew it was impossible, just a figure thrown out to destabilise the Labour party.

Now he’s here, way out of his depth, supposedly running negotiations to restore devolution.

Remember, he has no experience or qualifications of any kind for such an enterprise. Occasionally he emerges to stand like a hologram in front of a doorway intoning a paragraph he’s just learnt which says, well, nothing.

His interview in this paper with John Manley last week was a perfect example of what George Orwell wrote about in his famous essay, ‘Politics and the English Language’: ‘lifeless, defending the indefensible, euphemism, question-begging, sheer cloudy vagueness.’

Mangling the language, debasing it, uttering meaningless claptrap instead of answering questions, but above all, saying nothing. A metaphor for the man.

It’s a shambles up at Stormont. It’s difficult to work out whether the proconsul is so partisan that his aim is to protect his friends in the DUP or whether he’s so inept he doesn’t even know he’s offering gifts to them.

For example he told Sinn Féin there’s no money for legacy inquests because the matter of the past has to be agreed as a whole. Is he too stupid to realise that means he’s therefore told the DUP that all they have to do is disagree and they can stop anything? Or is he doing it deliberately because he’s hand in glove with the DUP? Or is he just so inexperienced as a negotiator he hasn’t a clue?

He certainly hasn’t taken control of talks. There are private talks going on between Sinn Féin and the DUP and going nowhere. The proconsul seems to have no agenda, no sense of realising that restoring devolution is not Sinn Féin’s priority and no plan for addressing what are their priorities.

His idiotic threat to call a new election sums up his lack of aims or objectives. Surely some adviser must have told him that after an election it’s groundhog day with another £5 million of public money burned through to get there?

Clearly he’s a player, so closely allied to the DUP he can’t chair talks, unable to accede to any legitimate request from Sinn Féin in case it discomfits his parliamentary allies.

The fact that Sinn Féin has a mandate almost precisely equal to the DUP’s, with only 1,168 votes separating them is disregarded.

The proconsul seems to consider Sinn Féin as somehow illegitimate, uppity, having no right to make demands on behalf of their electorate.

At no time has he indicated either in his language or behaviour that he regards Sinn Féin as a party with equality of status or parity of esteem.

Of course it’s true that the assembly election result profoundly shocked Downing Street and after discussions there behind closed doors they have no idea what to do.

The result called in question the existence of the north as a viable political entity just as rumblings in Scotland after May’s disastrous, hectoring, offensive speech to Scottish Conservatives in Glasgow on March 3 called the union between England and Scotland in question.

The truth obviously is that since May, the most parochial, small-minded home counties Conservative leader there’s ever been, doesn’t know what to do, then there’s no chance her representative here is going to take any decision, propose any policy or line of action until he’s told what to do.

It must be bewildering for him to accept that Sinn Féin has the initiative.

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