"We have a basis on which we can go forward and recommend it to our party, to the other parties in Northern Ireland and to the community. [An] essential element in the Democratic Unionist Party's manifesto is the requirement for community confidence. We believe that this can be the basis of gaining that confidence and we will seek the support of the other parties and of the community".Now three things stand out from that short but significant statement:
Firstly, the very fact that Robinson claims to have something (not yet a 'deal') that he says has the unanimous support of his party.
Secondly, Robinson carefully does not claim that the DUP's famous 'community confidence' hurdle has been crossed. On the contrary, he says that whatever was agreed (and we will have to wait until later this morning to see what that was) is merely "the basis of gaining that confidence". So it seems that he is stalling yet again.
Thirdly, the fact that, as he spoke he was flanked by only two of his colleagues – Arlene Foster and Sammy Wilson – neither of whom had been mentioned as being amongst Monday's 14 dissenters. Unlike on previous occasions, Robinson did not have the unsmiling faces of Gregory Campbell or Nigel Dodds behind him. Perhaps the lateness of the hour explains it, but perhaps it reflects an unwillingness amongst some DUP MLAs to be too closely associated with the announcement.
Not long ago Arlene Foster – speaking as acting First Minister, defiantly stated that the DUP would not be forced into a deal. Others spoke of no transfer of policing and justice for a political lifetime. But that was obviously bluster, and the DUP have caved in to some kind of deal. Whether their surrender has been complete, and there will actually be a date for the transfer in the 'document' to be published later today we will have to wait and see. It would not be surprising if the DUP adopts the same approach as it did with the St Andrews agreement, where no party actually signed anything, and thus all could deny having made commitments. It is hard to see how the DUP could delay the transfer any longer, but faced with the dangers posed by the TUV in the three elections in the next 16 months, they may still try to.
This blog recently drew a feeble comparison between Jim Allister and Winston Churchill – but as Peter Robinson (Chamberlain in the comparison) comes back from Munich (Hillsborough) with 'peace in our time' (the 'document'), the comparison starts to look more convincing. Just as in 1938, many people today will greet the announcement of a deal as a great breakthrough that saves Northern Ireland from the threat of (political) conflict. But what happened barely more than a year later, in 1939?