Brian Feeney’s column correctly anticipated the gap between the DUP’s timescale for developments, and that more favoured by the two governments. According to Feeney, the two want a deal sooner rather than later whilst the DUP is not for moving until the back end of next year.
He admits that the resulting stasis would suit the DUP:
Of course the DUP are going to emerge from today’s talks telling us all how tough they are and how no IRA statement will shift them. They’ll be talking tough in Northern Ireland question time today as well, making the same point. On the face of it they do have a strong position. After all, unionists have twice voted not to share power with Sinn Féin and the DUP are the beneficiaries of that vote in more ways than one. Many, perhaps most, unionists like direct rule partly because they don’t want to share power with Sinn Féin, partly because they also think direct rule guarantees there’ll be minimum change here.
The added bonus is that if the DUP stall on talking to SF then their main opponents, the UUP, stagnate. Even better, if the assembly is dissolved, as it should be, then the UUP leader will be at most a mere councillor. It’s inevitable that there’ll be no deal ratified before another assembly election when the UUP’s annihilation should be completed. Looks good, doesn’t it?
But, he argues, it would also release Sinn Fein energies for other things:
…direct rule enables SF to concentrate on their main aim, increasing their Dail representation with a view ultimately to getting into government. The latest polls show SF in the Republic back to where they were last December. Direct rule means unionists can never have any power but it leaves the prospect of power on an all-Ireland level open to Sinn Féin.
Finally he argues that:
…despite all their breast-beating the DUP are left with no choice. Hang tough, go nowhere and watch the Irish government consolidating its influence here, or make a deal with SF and watch the influence of the Irish government here grow as SF ministers press for more cooperation and harmonisation between north and south.