In the twenty years or so since devolution, we in Northern Ireland have grown used to being a bit-part player in the great drama of UK politics. But with the DUP/Tory deal, and problems relating to the border and Brexit, we’ve found ourselves thrust into the spotlight.
Suddenly our politicians find themselves squinting into the flashes of cameras, as the international media piles in, asking searching questions.
While more attention might be good for the ego, one gets the feeling our local parties aren’t enjoying the increased scrutiny all that much. Still, at least it takes the focus off the continued failure to re-establish the Executive!
As well as a flood of journos, our new-found importance has attracted other visitors.
One of those was Damian Green, Theresa May’s right hand man, who turned up at the DUP’s annual conference dinner to assure the party faithful all was well. While not deigning to suggest a date when the promised billion-odd quid might end up in the NI coffers, he did promise guests there would be no border in the Irish Sea.
Now, for those who haven’t been following this too closely, try to think of a compass. A north-south border would mean that a land border between the UK and the EU would be established between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Should an east-west border be established, then Northern Ireland would have some sort of special status in the EU customs union and the ‘border’ would be in the Irish Sea.
The DUP’s ten MPs have categorically ruled out any sort of border with GB. Giving NI ‘special status’ would, they fear, weaken the bonds of the union.
With the DUP propping up Theresa May’s minority administration, she has no choice but to take these fears seriously.
Of course, while First Secretary Damian Green and the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds poo-pooed the idea of special status, there were those who thought differently. Sinn Féin unveiled an independent legal opinion, written by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, on how special status for Northern Ireland could work.
Commissioned by the Nordic Green Left Alliance, it was a shrewd tactic. The opinion’s legal prose and professional tone lent it a credibility denied to most political publications in these cynical times.
While the Brexit whirlwind howls around us, our 1.8m citizens continue to observe the governmental sloth they are accustomed to.
One casualty is the region’s public sector – which employs nearly a third of our workforce. Without an Executive, public sector pay rises, promised in the rest of the UK, can’t happen here.
Meanwhile the inquiry into the flawed Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is warming up (*Groan* - ed).
The scheme’s massive overspend contributed to the collapse of devolved government in January. With some big political players coming before the inquiry in the new year, and new revelations already emerging, we can expect some drama.
Politics in our shire is particularly broken at the minute, and Secretary of State James Brokenshire could be forgiven for feeling a bit dejected.
But, if he wants to cheer himself up, he need only remind himself he has the power to cut MLAs pay if no Executive is formed. Now wouldn’t that liven things up?