This week’s celebrations marking 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement are inescapably coloured by recognition that the job is only half done.

Most importantly, the pact has been enormously successful in removing the threat of violence from everyday life in Northern Ireland.

And the enthusiastic participation of Sinn Fein in the political process is a reassuring sign that the republican movement now totally accepts the region’s status can only change through the consent of its residents.

So Rishi Sunak, Joe Biden, Leo Varadkar and other political leaders can point to great progress and a Northern Ireland whose prospects have been transformed from a quarter of a century ago.

But the Good Friday Agreement was supposed to do more than simply pull Northern Ireland out of the doldrums: it was intended to build a lasting political settlement with meaningful self-government for the region’s voters.

This has not worked. For around one third of the past 25 years, power-sharing has been suspended and the offices of First Minister and Deputy First Minister have lain vacant, as they are now.

Joe Biden will not be visiting Stormont, home of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive; there is little there for him to see, other than grand buildings not being used for their proper purpose.

Outsiders – from Westminster, Washington and Dublin alike – sound optimistic about the chances of using this week’s events to push the Democratic Unionist Party back into government. Mr Biden dangles promises of unlocked investment, while Mr Sunak is open to a change to the law that he hopes might alleviate the DUP’s fears about being severed from Great Britain by post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Miracles have happened before in Northern Ireland, and perhaps another is on the way. But every attempt so far to coax the DUP into power-sharing – where it would be formally the junior partner, given Sinn Fein holds more Assembly seats – has failed and there is no obvious reason why this time should be different.

It is unclear what the UK Government’s plan B is. Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland Secretary, has no appetite to reimpose direct rule, but bumbling along with no government in the region is a recipe for stagnation.

It may take a feat of courage and leadership comparable to that achieved back in 1998 to break this depressing deadlock.

By admin