Wednesday 11 November 2009

A cold winter?

Martin McGuinness at today's press conference following the North-South Ministerial Council meeting:
"What absolutely is an imperative is to have an agreement on the transfer of power, and a date for the transfer of power, before Christmas.

I have to say if it slips past Christmas we are in deep trouble."


Deep trouble in January translates into Executive stalemate, because the DUP could not afford the repercussions of an agreement on the transfer in the imminent Westminster elections.

But Executive stalemate could translate into a resignation by McGuinness, triggering almost certain elections to the Assembly – one result of which could be that McGuinness is returned as First Minister, leading in its turn to a unionist refusal to participate in the Executive, and thus a highly uncertain future for Northern Ireland.

The DUP's footdragging on the transfer of policing and justice was always likely to lead to trouble in the end. It seems, though, that the timing of the inevitable crisis may have been micro-managed by Sinn Féin to ensure that it falls at a time that causes most difficulty to the DUP.

Caught between a grand coalition of nationalism and all external opinion on one side, and the backwoodsmen of the extreme unionist fringes on the other, the DUP has acted like a rabbit in the headlights – unable to go forward, unable to go backward – and, like the poor rabbit, it may end up as roadkill. Nobody will feel sorry for the DUP if this happens.

27 comments:

Watcher said...

Outside political circles a return to direct rule would present few problems for most Unionists - in fact many would prefer it.

Dazzler said...

Except the GFA & StAA would have to be implemented by the British and Irish governments. The Irish language act would be on top of the agenda.

hoboroad said...

I see Jeffrey Donaldson been slapped down by Peter Robinson over the police reserve. When is a dealbreaker not a dealbreaker? Where is Jeffrey going to jump next?

Watcher said...

Dazzler said:

"Except the GFA & StAA would have to be implemented by the British and Irish governments. The Irish language act would be on top of the agenda."

Do you have the exact wording of the relevant St Andrew's clause regarding languages Dazzler?

Horseman said...

Watcher

StAA Annex B:

The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.

If the Executive falls, 'the government' that wrote that article regains power, and with it the obligation to carry out its undertakings.

Anonymous said...

Surely only the following possible outcomes?
1) DUP back down on P&J (maybe shortly after Christmas as agreed with SF to save face)
2) DUP continue to block and precipitate an election

Can anyone really see them going for number 2?

picador said...

Horseman,

The notion that Sinn Féin could get to pick the next First Minister after the next Assembly election is widespread but it is also erroneous.

The St Andrews Agreement says that the largest party from the largest designation nominates the First Minister. So as long as there are more designated unionists than there are designated nationalists the largest unionist party gets to nominate the First Minster.

hoboroad said...

Or number 3 the DUP splits or Senior party figures defect to the TUV. Or maybe Nigel Dodds will launch a leadership bid against Robinson.

picador said...

An early election is probably in Robinson's interest as well, particularly if it's triggered by SF. He would go into the election looking tough. Then with the Westminister election behind him too he would have a degree of leeway.

If he were to compromise on P & J he would boost Allister in time for the Westminister election, split his own party and head into the 2011 Assembly election as a Lundy.

A spring election makes sense for both SF and the DUP.

Horseman said...

picador,

The notion that Sinn Féin could get to pick the next First Minister after the next Assembly election is widespread but it is also erroneous.

Agreed.

But imagine if the TUV did not designate at all (and thus were considered 'others') - that would be guaranteed to collapse the institutions, as it would reduce the unionist block by enough seats to give the FM to SF. Allister is devious enough to see that, and to do it.

Anonymous said...

Horseman, Picador,

I have taken this from the TUV website. Jim A. has repeated it many times and in the debate on the transfer of police yesterday in Stormont Alan Mc Farland(?) UUP also repeated it - though Robinson was trying to suggest otherwise from the floor.

"The St Andrews Bill contains a political bombshell for Unionism. Bad as it was, the Belfast Agreement, at least, guaranteed that a unionist majority in the Assembly would always result in a Unionist First Minister. This Bill (Clause 8) changes that. It now affords the prize of the top office to the Party with the most seats. Thus, in future, we could have a Sinn Fein First Minister, in spite of a Unionist majority in the House, if they were the party with the greatest number of seats.

This is monstrous and a gross affront to democracy. I cannot comprehend how any Unionist could, in consequence, regard this Bill, quite apart from its other deficiencies, as a suitable route to acceptable devolution. The ticking time bomb of a Sinn Fein First Minister being foisted on a Unionist Assembly, is something which should unite every Unionist in opposition. I trust it will.”

New times, New approach said...

I see that Peter has just come away from a meeting with the chief constable with a flea in his ear and has had to eat his words on the police reserve. He now accepts that decisions about police resources are "an operational matter" for Mr.Baggott. Indeed he hasn't even managed to secure a commitment that they would be transferred into subservient back office jobs within the PSNI. The best he can get from Baggott is that they can apply for jobs (just like everybody else).
Baggott is being sensible as if he were to allow them to transfer then the regulations on equality in police recruitment would compel him to then find 440 catholics to enlist in order to balance the intake.
Sorry, Peter, but the RUC (and very shortly the RUC reserve) is gone now. It's all changed.

picador said...

Horseman,

55 plays 44 at the minute with 9 others. With nationalist gains minimal (at best) due to boundary changes the TUV would need to win in the region of ten seats to make this scenario possible. Given that they have few recognisable candidates this is highly unlikely.

Anonymous said...

picador, Horseman

how does Allister not get challenged by journalists or even on the Nolan show when the DUP could have exposed his 'misunderstanding' live - on his contention I have posted above regarding the first Minister.

As I mentioned it was also repeated by the UUP in Stormont.

Horseman said...

Anonymous at 12 November 2009 09:07,

It seems to be a case of a misunderstanding that has become accepted without question.

The StAA (http://www.nio.gov.uk/st_andrews_agreement-2.pdf), states clearly:

"The Nominating Officer of the largest party in the largest designation in the Assembly shall make a nomination to the Assembly Presiding Officer for the post of First Minister." (Annex A, para 9).

picador said...

I think the reason this is conception is so widely stated is because for various electoral purposes it suits the DUP (deters 'splitters'), it suits Jim Allister (powershaing can be overthrown) and it suits Sinn Féin (get nationalist FM).

Why the media fail to challenge this myth is beyond me!

picador said...

'the reason this misconception is so widely stated' that should read above.

hoboroad said...

PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott tells the Policing Board there can be no turning back on the disbandment of the Police Reserve.

Picador said...

Horseman,

Do you known anything about the boundary dispute that's threatening to derail the super councils? BBC NI News intimated that it was related to the boundary between Lisburn & Belfast. Are the DUP trying to override the Boundary Commission proposals in order to secure a unionist majority for Beflast?

hoboroad said...

Matt Baggott has said if former PSNI reservists want to join the PSNI full time they will have to go through the normal channels just like everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Picador, Horseman,

I have just emailed the TUV and they are stating that although the ST Agreeement states as you are suggesting regarding the First Minister the actual legislation does not reflect this and your contention is in fact incorrect.

Kieron

Horseman said...

Kieron,

I wish the TUV had been more specific in its reply to you. My understanding is that the legislation in force is the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 (aka 2006 CHAPTER 53). You can read it here: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/ukpga_20060053_en_1

Now, in that act, section 8 puts into force the StAA as follows: "The nominating officer of the largest political party of the largest political designation shall nominate a member of the Assembly to be the First Minister."

That seems pretty clear to me. Where does the TUV get a different interpretation?

Horseman said...

Aha, Kieron, my apologies to you and the TUV. If you read further down in the act I linked to, you get to this:

"If at any time the party which is the largest political party of the largest political designation is not the largest political party—
(a) any nomination to be made at that time under section 16A(4) or 16B(4) shall instead be made by the nominating officer of the largest political party
".

So Jim A can collapse the Executive by chopping unionism into three parts!

Anonymous said...

Horseman,

what was strange in the Police debate the other day was that when Alan Mc Farland UUP(who was excellent) was speaking on this issue - Robinson interrupted him (Mc Farland gave way) and appeared to challenge him - but Mc Farland confidently resumed and Robinson did not but in again. It was almost as if Robinson did not realise what the situation was.

Kieron

picador said...

That just sounds like a really complicated (and somewhat illogical) way of saying that the largest party nominates the First Minister!

hoboroad said...

David Calvert up in court on driving charges.

paul said...

picador said...

That just sounds like a really complicated (and somewhat illogical) way of saying that the largest party nominates the First Minister! ................i hear that lad