This piece in today’s Irish Independent doesn’t have a byline, but it reads as a fairly accurate analysis of where things are (as opposed to where the party’s say they are) at the moment. It argues that Sinn Fein is the more motivated of the two major parties to find a deal that sticks, before Tony Blair leaves office. It argues plausibly that nine seats at Westminster may well be enough to quell the undoubted hunger amongst some in the DUP to fill the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein will learn that the price in terms of distancing themselves from the IRA from paramilitary connections and activities is now much higher than it was in November. What might have sealed the deal, then, for DUP and the British and Irish governments, is now much higher. A lot will depend on how two major political figures wish to leave the stage or to be remembered. Tony Blair, by most assessments, may not have much more than 18 months left in office. Ian Paisley is now a senior figure in his party and in Northern politics.
Having already felt the hand of history on his shoulder in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, Blair may be anxious not to see his creation unravel. Indeed, his desire for completion in the time remaining to him may lead him to push on faster than some of the parties (and especially the DUP) wish to travel. Sinn Fein, for their part, will be anxious to complete the business in Blair’s time in the belief, not entirely unfounded, that his successor is unlikely to accord the same priority for sorting out the North.
Dr Paisley is more of an enigma. Does he want to be remembered as the one who held the fort for unionism, who closed the gate on all truck with republicans; or as the benign father of his people, who led them out of the desert into a promised land of peace? There are those who suggest he would like to be First Minister of Northern Ireland, even for a relatively short time, before then departing the political scene. Whether he does or not could be a crucial factor in the shape of politics over the next few months.