Solution is in the hands of main players

This will no doubt have Andrew at A Tangled Web fuming this morning. In yesterday’s column, Brian Feeney taunts the DUP with that perennial old chestnut that it simply doesn’t want to share power. He also argues that it has nowhere left to go.

It’s a safe line for any nationalist commentator to take, as although the DUP may have de facto shared power with Catholics in Stormont, they have not yet been privy to any deal that publicly legitimises powersharing. The DUP-led Castlereagh Council’s apparent unwillingness to share power provides a ready barometer for those sceptical of the party’s new liberal credentials.

And Feeney knows the party’s fundamentalist ‘wing’ well enough from first hand experience. Until 1993 he was a senior member of the SDLP and Belfast City Councillor for Ardoyne. However it is not clear that the cracks in the DUP that Feeney mentions, are as quite as visible or fundamental as he suggests.

Indeed much of the public reading of the party and its intentions has been seriously off beam for quite some time now. That’s partly because for years much of the media considered the party beyond the pale of political respectability and, especially after the 1998 referendum, largely irrelevant. In fact, very few observers have gotten close enough to fully apprehend the reality of the party’s inner political life.

On paper at least, the DUP is not the same party it was when Feeney faced them across the council chamber. Reading its public statements of principle and, perhaps more importantly, the detailed policy documents – it commits to striking a deal on devolution that is primarily acceptable to Unionists as well as Nationalists. Something that would have seemed unimaginable only ten years ago.

In the absence of a deal, all of this will seem little more than window-dressing to nationalists. But the hard truth is, that in the absence of IRA decommissioning, the DUP’s position will be viewed as both safe and respectable within the wider unionist constituency.

Unionism has travelled a long and arduous road since Fionnuala O’Connor, accurately reported “Now it is unionism that is fragmented and demoralised, while Catholics, although still divided, increasingly show a confidence many Protestants struggle to come to terms with”, back in 1993. Indeed, the very contemporary absence of division and rancour is highly conspicuous.

With Sinn Fein’s senior position within nationalism looking just as unassailable, both the British and Irish governments will struggle to provide any answers to Feeney’s rhetorical questions and overcome the current inertia.

  • Keith M

    Let’s get a few things straight here shall we? No party that isn’t forced to, likes to share power. In the memorable words of the soon to be ex-Irish Foreign Minister (talking about the PDs) Brian Cowan, “if in doubt, leave them out”. Therefore if any party or any Unionist group (or indeed any Nationalist/Republican group) are in a majority in any local authority, they tend to be loathe to share power. The same happens throughtout the British Isles, as Feeney surely knows.

    Powersharing is the price that Unionists are having to pay for the return to develoved government to Northern Ireland. The UUP have accepted that since the 1970’s, the DUP are later converts, but a cursory reading of their recent manifestos puts that conversion beyond doubt.

    The issues that brought about last night’s collapse seem to be accountability and the process for electing the First Minister and DFM. I think it an unnecessary bit of tokenism that the FM and DFM need to get support from both groups in the assembly (I’ve already detailing my problems with designation in other posts) before they can be elected. I see nothing wrong with a simple STV vote by MLAs with the first person over the 50%+1 quota becoming FM and the second being DFM. This would guarantee a Unionist FM and Nationalist/Republican DFM assuming block voting holds.

    The current debate on accountability could only take place in N.I. In every other country with a coalition holding executive powers, all major legislation is agreed in a programme for government, and if any minister wants to introduce something which is not in that programme then it has to be brought to and agreed at cabinet. Somehow (if the newspaper reports are right) SF and the SDLP seem to have a problem with that. Fianna Fail must be looking at the current SF stance and putting the final nail in the coffin of any though of a FF/SF government in this country.

    The governments now have to provide a reality check for the parties. Suspend payments to MLAs until an executive is formed and propose something which provides the level of accountability that people need for the assembly to work properly for the electorate.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    “The governments now have to provide a reality check for the parties. Suspend payments to MLAs until an executive is formed and propose something which provides the level of accountability that people need for the assembly to work properly for the electorate.”

    Would suspending salaries to the DUP and SF have that much effect on them? Especially if either or both dig their heals in over accountability. At this juncture I believe both parties welcome the salaries but would quickly adapt it they ended.

    Accountability is the main problem and stalling device, especially since the DUP and SF/SDLP has different takes on it. Someone is going to have to back down here. Either the original terms under the GFA are adhered to, in which case the DUP eat crud. Or the terms are amended then SF/SDLP have some thinking to do.
    Mark Durkan seems to be gambling a lot on the integrity of the Agreement (in SDLP terms) while SF have been less vociferous and would have less back paddling to do should the terms be amended to accommodate the DUPers.

  • George

    It’s Cowen, not Cowan.
    The former is the anglicised version of an Irish name.

  • willowfield

    Feeney is wrong. The reason the DUP are not able to come to an agreement is not because they won

  • slackjaw

    It’s Cowen, not Cowan.
    The former is the anglicised version of an Irish name. ‘

    Is the latter not an anglicised version too? Or has the Irish alphabet been hiding a ‘W’ all these years?

  • Willow

    The DUP can argue all they want. Their proposals can be communicated to the general public as no big deal, but the SDLP (architects of the GFA)know better. Sinn Fein may be quieter on this issue, but in no uncertain terms will the SDLP allow the Agreement to be changed. The SDLP will not be backpaddling, because it is as simple as this, the Agreement will not be changed. The British Government will try and change things to suit the DUP but the SDLP will DEFINITELY not accept it.

  • willowfield

    Doesn’t really matter if the SDLP accepts it, does it? It’s what the Provos accept that matters.

  • Simon Partridge

    Could someone tell this ignorant Londoner what is the Irish version of Cowen/Cowan?