In the Irish Times, David Adams admits he was partially wrong in his election forecast, but stands by his other prediction – “That was: with Sinn Féin and the DUP in pole positions within nationalism and unionism, we can expect little or no forward movement in the political process for the foreseeable future.”He argues that –
Those who cling hopefully to the notion that a strengthened DUP can do business with Sinn Féin ignore recent history and the harsh realities that have flowed from it. Not least, they misunderstand why unionist opinion has now swung so strongly behind the DUP.
With the Belfast Agreement, the unionist community was faced with the prospect of Sinn Féin holding executive office within a devolved assembly. Despite deep misgivings about a movement it regarded as irredeemably malevolent, for a time a slim majority was prepared to suspend judgment and take a chance on securing a political settlement and, thereby, lasting peace.
He feels the criticism of David Trimble, from some quarters, is not fully justified –
Besides negotiating a better political and constitutional deal for unionism than many, including this writer, thought possible, it was he who managed to convince that slim majority within unionism to take a chance on an agreement that would involve members of the Provisional republican movement taking up ministerial positions in a Northern Ireland executive. No mean feat, given all they had suffered at the hands of the IRA.
At that stage, with the agreement under constant attack from right-wing unionists, no one could have sold it to the unionist community, but Trimble did manage to persuade them to put it to the test. Thanks primarily, but not exclusively, to republican bad faith, unionists have tested the agreement, found it wanting and set their face against it.
And his interpretation of the election result is that there is little to suggest anyone could sell a similar deal again –
Last week, the unionist electorate voted in greater numbers than before for the DUP – not in order to secure better terms for a return to power-sharing, but because it believes that party is less likely to go into government with Sinn Féin than the Ulster Unionists. In effect, it has voted for direct rule in preference to a return to devolved government. The DUP is acutely aware of that fact.
Much in the same vein as Dermot Ahern’s recent comments, he doesn’t see there being much that will change the situation.. and lays the responsibility for that at the feet of the Provisional movement –
It is difficult to imagine what republicans can now offer in terms of substance, clarity and guarantees that would tempt the DUP into agreeing to share power with them. And more difficult still to imagine what it will now take for the unionist electorate to endorse such an agreement.
It is a situation for which the Provisional movement has only itself to blame. For years they did everything they could to ensure that someone else always took the blame for the political instability they deliberately brought about. All the while, concentrating their energies on increasing their electoral strength in both parts of the island by playing the role of thwarted peacemakers who invariably fall victim to the malevolent machinations of others. Now that the two governments have stopped pandering to their every whim, they realise the game is up and their tactics are threatening to be counter-productive.[emphasis added]
It seems they might be ready, at last, to make a deal and stick to it. Unfortunately for them and the rest of us, after all that has happened there is no longer a large enough section of unionism prepared to take a gamble on republicans living up to their commitments.
It is for republicans alone to change that.