Ireland Eye

Written By: John Coulter
Published: July 31, 2017 Last modified: July 31, 2017

Bring back the Saggers to save Stormont! Saggers? What, I hear you say. Is this some secret neo-Masonic cult dreampt up under the Tory/DUP deal?

Actually, The Saggers was a nickname given to a group of Assembly members who comprised the Speaker’s Advisory Group, which kept Stormont afloat when the Assembly went into suspension during the David Trimble era in 2002.

The Saggers were all MLAs from the Stormont Commission, which is the Assembly’s inner circle. These Sagger MLAs considered material and documents, then made a series of recommendations which were given to the Assembly Speaker, who in turn passed them to the Northern Secretary. The Saggers team also linked up with very senior Northern civil servants.

Sounds like a complicated system, but it kept Stormont alive and prevented the Assembly from being dumped into mothballs like its original 1972 predecessor.

Even Sinn Fein gave support to the Saggers’ work. That’s why it’s now so vital the Saggers be re-activated if the current Tory Northern Ireland Secretary is forced to suspend Stormont again as relations between Sinn Fein and its DUP Executive partner slam into rock bottom.

Republicans also need to realise they need to retain Stormont if they want Sinn Fein to become minority government partners in the next Dail. Sinn Fein needs to prove to the Southern Irish electorate that it is worthy of responsible government. It can do this by rescuing the Assembly from the brink. Sinn Fein has now realised that the only route to Irish unity lies through Dublin, not Belfast or London.

The DUP isn’t worried by a Stormont collapse as its MPs take their Westminster seats, so they have done a deal with PM Theresa May. But as Sinn Fein still operates its outdated abstentionist policy on Commons seats, a dead fly would have more influence in the Commons chamber than Sinn Fein MPs – just ask the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Sinn Fein has a massive image stereotype to overcome if Louth TD Gerry Adams is to emerge as Tanaiste – or deputy Prime Minister – after the South’s next general election.

Banging the anti-austerity drum may get Sinn Fein a few extra TDs, but it won’t propel Adams into the Tanaiste’s office in Leinster House.

Adams is correct when he warns Stormont is facing its greatest crisis since the Good Friday Agreement. But if Sinn Fein can save Stormont using the Saggers, it will help convince Southern voters the party can be trusted in government in the Republic as well.

And what a mountain Sinn Fein has to climb to eradicate the myths of the past. Would you vote for a party which snubbed tens of thousands of republicans who went off to fight the Kaiser in 1914?

Would you vote for a party which organised the doomed Easter Rising in Dublin while those thousands of republicans were being slaughtered in the trenches of the Western Front?

Would you vote for a party which for generations refused to recognise the service and sacrifice which republicans made in the Great War?

Would you vote for a party which brought the wrath of the notorious Black and Tans upon the Irish people during the War of Independence?

Would you vote for a party which didn’t accept the Treaty and condemned the island to months of mindless slaughter as republican butchered republican?

Would you vote for a party which pussy-footed with Hitler’s Nazis during the Second World War?
If Sinn Fein wants the keys to the Tanaiste’s office, it must first use the Saggers to unlock the Stormont logjam. But Arlene Foster’s DUP also has to weigh in behind the tried and tested Saggers Solution to the political impasse.

With Northern Ireland in the grip of the traditional Protestant Marching Season, no side wants to make the first serious move towards the restoration of devolved government lest it be misinterpreted as surrender, concession, or sheer political retreating.

The general opinion from well-placed sources in both the Unionist and republican communities is that a deal to restore the power-sharing Executive has already been cut between the DUP and Sinn Fein – all that remains is to select a suitable time to unveil the package.

Sinn Fein wants an Irish Language Act, even in a basic format, which the party can add to later as opportunities arise. What would kill off the Act would be if significant numbers of Protestants decided to learn Irish.

Centuries ago, it was Ireland’s highly influential Presbyterian community who saved the Irish language from oblivion – not the forerunners of modern republicanism.

What the DUP wants is for the highly embarrassing Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal – reportedly to cost the taxpayers some £600 million – to simply vanish into thin air; a move which could be possible given that the DUP secured an additional almost £2 billion in funding for Northern Ireland through the deal with the Conservatives.

About John Coulter

John Coulter is a journalist for the Daily Star