The Ulster Unionist Party’s newly appointed Chief Negotiator, Alan McFarland, delivered his speech to the MacGill Summer School last Friday, in which he made his theme confidence and trust.
He not only defends the UUP line post 1998, but takes the DUP to task for their stance.
The Democratic Unionist Party ran away from negotiations in 1997 and spent 6 years carping from the side-lines. They stood in the 2003 Assembly elections on a cunning plan about which they were unable to give any detail. It eventually transpired that the cunning plan would see the introduction of a Corporate Assembly, in which all 108 Assembly Members would be the Government. Minister McGuinness would be replaced by Chairman McGuinness, and Sinn Fein were guaranteed that they would remain in government, regardless of how badly the IRA behaved. Not a peep on that policy now.
He also doubts the DUPs ability to sell any deal to their own.
Whither the DUP? Well the DUP have two major challenges in the immediate future. Firstly, the Peter Robinson wing seems keen to do a deal when the Republicans move. Dr Paisley may be harder to convince. He will be mindful of a university study last year that showed around one third of the DUP grass roots want nothing to do with the Belfast Agreement and do not support power-sharing with nationalists. Add to this last November’s threat from DUP councillors in Ballymena to resign from the Party over the Comprehensive Agreement, and the challenges facing the DUP are clear.
He also predicts Irish re-enrty into the Commonwealth of Nations, Northern Ireland becoming increasingly at ease with itself within the Union along with greater cross border co-operation for matters of mutual benefit.