Thursday 5 June 2008

A deal to ensure Robinson's election?

So the storm in the teacup has passed over, and blue skies are here again. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have been jointed elected as First and Deputy First Minister respectively.

What has happened to bring about this smooth conclusion to the crisis of the past few days? From crisis to resolution with almost no visible movement by either side – there has got to be something going on behind the scenes.

The only external factor is the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. Only after both parties had met him did the crisis begin to thaw. He announced that he would hold talks with Sinn Féin and the DUP on Friday, and that these talks "will centre on various issues including the forward investment strategy for Northern Ireland, the economic situation and the devolution of policing and justice. Discussions will also address concerns around paramilitary organisations, parades, sites, the Irish language and education, and the putting in place of a process to deal with them.
The PM said he remained committed to the continuing implementation of the St Andrews agreement and to helping the parties to deal with issues that have been raised. The meeting follows talks held with Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams at Number 10 earlier this week.

For Sinn Féin to have dropped their threat means that they received sufficient assurances from Brown that their concerns will be taken seriously, and that progress will be made on them. Robinson has either agreed with this, or he is heading for a troubled relationship with both Brown and Sinn Féin. In return, no doubt, Brown received assurances from Sinn Féin with respect to the IRA Army Council, the sole bargaining chip left over from that period of militarism.

For the DUP, who have been publicly gloating about their ability to foil and sabotage Sinn Féin's plans, the future looks humiliating. Brown has now very publicly stood over the St Andrews Agreement, and shown that he sees it as the agenda. The DUP has always denied this, and is on record as claiming that police and justice would not be devolved until a time of 'their' choosing. It seems that Brown may do that choosing for them. Other gloats, such as legislation on the status of Irish, may also come to stick in the DUP's throats.

As has been said many times, the DUP has failed to prepare its supporters for the inevitability of 'green' policies being enacted. They seem to have thought that their half of the mutual veto would protect them from ever having to. But unfortunately their position is not as strong as they thought.

Next year sees the European Parliament elections, and if they leave the inevitable policy u-turns too late, then the shock to their supporters may well come at a crucial moment. So, in their own interests, as well as everyone else's, they should bite the bullet and make the changes now.

Here are our suggestions, which may in fact already be part of the behind-the-scenes agreement between the two parties:

(1) Sack Edwin Poots, and thereby implicitly blame him for the lack of movement on Irish.
(2) Encourage Sinn Féin to sack Caitriona Ruane from education as a balancing measure, thereby implicitly blaming her for the selection issue.
(3) Negotiate a quick compromise with Sinn Féin on simultaneous devolution of policing and justice, and the standing down of the IRA Army Council.

After these changes, and a reasonably calm period of non-confrontational politics, the DUP will be in a better position to face its electorate, with less to fear from the TUV.

Failure to resolve the outstanding issues, in the light of Gordon Brown's clear preferences, will leave the DUP in a very difficult position. They now know that Sinn Féin are aware of their tactical nuclear weapon – the resignation of the DFM, triggering an Assembly election – and know that they might use it as precisely the most awkward moment for the DUP. If the DUP are foolish enough to have not dealt with Brown's 'shopping list' by then, the blame will fall on them.

1 comment:

Faha said...

This was a brilliant move by Sinn Fein. It was totally unexpected, especially by the DUP. It put the DUP in a lose-lose situation. If they agree to Sinn Fein demands over the devolution of police and justice, Irish language act, etc., then Sinn Fein accomplishes what it desires over these matters and the TUV attract more voters from the DUP. If the DUP continue to veto every nationalist proposal, then Sinn Fein can threaten an election. Any election will seriously weaken the DUP, as they have already reached their peak number of seats in the 2007 election. Along with losses to the TUV, there will be DUP losses to the SDLP and Sinn Fein due to Boundary Commission changes as well as demographic changes that will be detrimental to all the unionist parties. This prospect, along with the likelyhood of a Sinn Fein First Minister, puts the DUP in a very difficult position.