In his long post mortem article following the DUP's humiliation in the European Parliament elections Peter Robinson admitted clearly that his party's aim was to exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive.
He said that "I have no doubt that most unionists would prefer if Sinn Fein were not in the Executive", without specifically saying if he was one of the 'most unionists', but he then admits that: "we have previously advocated a DUP/UUP/SDLP coalition. Unfortunately to date the SDLP have implacably opposed such an arrangement in the present circumstances and now represent less than 40% of the nationalist electorate in Northern Ireland."
Yet at the same time he asks: "Does anyone really believe that arrangements which do not command cross community support are likely to produce a stable and prosperous society?"
The question is, what does the DUP consider 'cross-community support' to actually be?
In his speech at the Evolve NI event yesterday, Robinson said that "where a cross-community vote is required by legislation or triggered by a petition of concern a proposal would require the support of 65% of Assembly Members present and voting to pass". There are 108 MLAs, and 65% of this number is 70.
In the current Assembly, elected in 2007, unionists hold 55 of the 108 seats (or 51% of the Members). Nationalists hold 44 seats (or around 41% of the Members). The remaining 9 seats are held by the Alliance Party (7), a Green and an Independent.
If unionism managed to persuade all of the non-aligned MLAs to support a proposal, it would have the support of 64 (59%) of the 'Assembly Members present and voting', requiring it to only persuade 6 MLAs from the nationalist designation to support it, in order, under its definition, to achieve 'cross-community' support.
So it appears that Robinson would consider that a proposal has 'cross-community' support if barely 6 out of 44 nationalists support it – less than 14% of the nationalists in the Assembly! Even if 38 nationalists out of 44 vehemently oppose a proposal, if Robinson can persuade merely six to support him he thinks he can claim 'cross-community support'!
Of course, given the arithmetic of the Assembly, the same is not true for a nationalist proposal. In this case the threshold of 70 MLAs would still exist, but nationalism would have to attract 17 unionist MLAs to reach that target – almost 31% of all the unionist MLAs.
So yet again unionism is displaying its essentially unfair reflexes – the concept of 'cross-community support' according to the DUP would set the hurdle far higher for nationalism than for unionism – more than twice as high, in fact.
While Robinson bemoans the SDLP's declining support, he is well aware that it could still, for years to come, provide him with the 14% of nationalist support that would provide him with 'cross community' cover for his anti-Sinn Féin campaign. Robinson and the DUP are probably banking on the SDLP being able to elect at least 6 MLAs even if they betray the nationalist consensus and join a unionist coalition. In fact, if they did so, they could become even more dependent upon inclusion in the coalition to give it any power or purpose. The SDLP, if they betrayed nationalism, would have no other friends, apart from the unionists who would need them to supply their 'cross community' fig-leaf.
But few people in the SDLP will be foolish enough to even consider this possibility – it would be political suicide for the party. And of course Robinson and the DUP know it too, so there is a question over why they are choosing to raise the issue at all.
The only logical answer to that question is, of course, that it is simply one of the DUP's battle plans for the upcoming Westminster election. In June the DUP was humiliated by Jim Allister, and many observers predicted a lurch towards the intransigent-unionist direction as a way of countering the Allister/TUV threat. Raising the issue of an anti-Sinn Féin coalition when he knows that it is a non-starter may simply be Robinson trying to show the unionist electorate that he is as hard on nationalism as Allister.