Thursday 30 October 2008

Burying the news on the devolution of policing and justice?

Gordon Brown has let the unionists know, in his somewhat oblique style, that he wants them to stop stalling on the devolution of policing and justice:

"… I want us to work together to ensure that we can undertake the remaining stages of the devolution that will make stability for the longer term possible."

The DUP has run out of excuses, and run out of rope. There is only one way now that the Executive can be revived, and that is by agreeing a date for the devolution of policing and justice.

But luckily for the DUP, events are coming together in a way that will allow them to climb down without entirely losing face. And the perfect moment is approaching – it is, in fact, mere days away.

It has long been the practice of politicians to try to 'bury' bad news by releasing it on a day that is guaranteed to have other, more important issues – September 11 (in the case of Tony Blair's spin doctor), or during the media frenzy surrounding the Diana Spencer report). Next Tuesday and Wednesday (4 and 5 November) are going to be perfect 'buried news days'. The hype over the US Presidential election is going to simply wipe all other news stories from the newspapers and TV sets for the best part of a week. Even more so, if it's a close race.

So if the DUP want to climb down a little, and actually hint at a date for policing and justice, I suspect that they might do it on Wednesday 5 November.

Two other factors point towards this timetable. Firstly, the long-awaited DUP conference will take place this Saturday. So the possibility of a walk-out, or unpleasantness, is avoided if the announcement is made after the conference. Secondly, if the contentious military parade in Belfast this weekend passes relatively peacefully, it will allow the DUP to claim that Sinn Féin's protest was 'the exercising of their democratic right' – and since most senior Sinn Féin members will be elsewhere, the DUP could claim that they showed 'sufficient maturity' and thus the conditions were now right for devolution. On top of this, if the unionists' militaristic parade passes off successfully, they may well be feeling confident that things are moving in their direction – enough perhaps, to risk making the necessary compromises to restart the Executive.

If the DUP don't make use of this opportunity, their room for manoeuvre will start to shrink as the European Parliament elections come closer and the threat from the TUV starts to paralyse them.

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