Lots of talk and consequences for everyone but Sinn Fein

According to Alex Kane, the message coming from the two governments last week it is time for the two main parties to deal with each other. But he notes the financial penalties arising from any future collapse are likely to affect everyone, except “IRA-bankrolled Sinn Fein”. Indeed, last night’s documentary on Trimble pretty much repeated the view that the IRA’s ‘no show’ act of decommissioning in October 2003, occurred because there was no political pressure on them to produce anything.He asks: “Where, exactly, is the political pressure on Sinn Fein and the clearly spelled-out consequences of its continuing failure to support the police?”

By Alex Kane

The most extraordinary aspect of Thursday’s Joint Statement is that it offers absolutely nothing to pro-Union democrats. For all of its talk about input to, and influence over the process, the DUP has got zilch. The recalled Assembly will be without power, without responsibility, without accountability. There won’t even be a shadow administration. In effect, all of unionism has been shafted.

The Statement boils down to one reality: the DUP and Sinn Fein have to have direct negotiations in order to agree a First and Deputy First Minister. In other words, what the governments have proposed is nothing more than a forum for the very negotiations that the two parties have failed to conduct since December 2004. What makes Messrs Blair and Ahern imagine that Paisley and Adams can do in a recalled Assembly what they have failed to do outside the Assembly?

As ever, the carrot and stick approach is much in evidence. There are hints that the MLAs could voice their opinions on a range of issues and a promise that “Ministers would naturally take account of views which command cross-community support within the Assembly.” Oh really! Have Hain, Hanson, Rooker and Smyth ever given the slightest indication in the past of a willingness to listen to a public or political opinion which is at variance with their own? Are they now suggesting that they would reverse decisions on water rates, public administration and education if the Assembly asked them too? Don’t be ridiculous. This is insulting, patronising and disingenuous pap.

And, if the parties can’t agree a deal, then they will be punished, with the loss of salaries and the threat of new “British-Irish partnership arrangements.” But that’s not true either, of course, is it? The IRA-bankrolled Sinn Fein won’t be too hard pushed if salaries are stopped. I can’t imagine that Gerry Adams will be weeping into his beard if a partitionist Assembly is replaced with de jure joint sovereignty. Adding insult to injury, from the unionist perspective, is the clear implication that all other parts of the Belfast Agreement will still be implemented, even if there isn’t a unionist input through the Assembly.

So, there you have it. Either the DUP cuts a deal with Sinn Fein before November 24th or the Assembly will be mothballed and replaced with a process which polishes and promotes an unfettered republican agenda. That is what Tony Blair means by take-it-or-leave it. Where, exactly, is the political pressure on Sinn Fein and the clearly spelled-out consequences of its continuing failure to support the police? Indeed, in return for nothing, other than a willingness to set up an Executive with the DUP (which they are committed to already!), Sinn Fein has been guaranteed that “the British Government’s power to suspend the Assembly will lapse for good.” Let’s face it, other than writing the document themselves, things couldn’t have worked out much better for Sinn Fein.

All of this places the DUP in a tremendously difficult position. They are now in exactly the same position as the UUP was in, in November 1999, when David Trimble was forced to retreat from “no guns, no government” and ask the Ulster Unionist Council to take a leap of faith. Had he not done so, there would have been no Executive. Now, almost seven years later, if the DUP wants an Executive, it has to take its own leap of faith and open direct dialogue with Sinn Fein.

Peter Robinson, and the coterie of former Young Unionists who make up his campaign and policy team, know that this leap of faith is necessary. The question is, will Ian Paisley sanction and then lead such a leap? Because if he doesn’t budge, then the DUP isn’t going to budge; and Peter Robinson isn’t going to risk splitting the party by advocating a solo run into the arms of Martin McGuinness. It would all have been so much easier had the DUP remained in the Talks process in 1997/98 and helped David Trimble secure a fairer deal then.

My own instincts are that the whole process will collapse before November. I see no signs that Adams or Paisley will break or compromise. Worse than that, I suspect that the electorate, on both sides of the community fence, couldn’t give a toss one way or the other anymore. I may be an atheist, but even I now believe that unionism needs a miracle!

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 8th March 2006

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  • james andrews

    Some very good points.Ah well it could be worse at least eileen has been placed in the lords talk about taking trinkets whilst getting screwed by the govts,and sf.

  • Yokel

    We all know Blair is a lily livered little gobsh**e who is afraid of Provo bombs in London again and is using this country as his central plank to be remembered in history but otherwise Kane is talking bollocks, is playing inter- unionist political games and yet again doing the classic Unionist thing, raising a bogeyman. Well done Alex, tomorrows face of Unionism looks much like yesterdays and you are a perfect example.

    It’s inevitable that Blair will put pressure on anyone first other than the Provos because he’s scared of them but thats the reality as it has been for a while. Once Blair goes things will change, subtle changes but changes alright.

  • fair_deal

    I thought it was the DUP who were supposed to have an apocalyptic view. It is sad to see a good political brain trapped in a Frazeresque “Doomed” cycle.

    The line about absence from the last talks making Trimble’s life difficult is nonsense. Its all about how you play your hand and the absence of the UKUP and DUP didn’t “weaken2 Unionism in the talks it gave Trimble and the UUP the position of kingmaker. The governments needed him more not less. Although this is a typical failure of Trimblism thinking of Unionism as persistently weak.

    Since November 2003 the DUP has played a reasonable game (although by no means perfect they rested on their laurels far too much in the 6-9 months after the Comprehensive Agreement).

    The UUP originally predicted that the DUP becoming predominant would lead to a swift collapse of the entire process. It didn’t.

    The UUP said the DUP weren’t serious about negotiating. Yet in 2004 they managed to convince the governments they were and came close to a deal before the Provos walked off to rob a bank.

    Massive decommissioning of the PIRA’s stocks took place during the DUP’s watch (this commitment was contained in the Comprehensive Agreement although not in a manner to promote the necessary confidence).

    Also after the massive decommissioning the governments were in a dirty rush to have Stormont up before Christmas, then up before Easter. Both successfully frustrated and when the governments were casting about for ideas it was the DUP brought forward proposals that the SDLP and SF were running round in a panic to talk down.

    The Armagh initiative does contain something for Unionists the opportunity to change the agreement in the proposed negotiations. The DUP also got a number of policy changes, a package for deprived loyalist areas, support for a number of projects and a good settlement package for RIR soldiers.

    Also the DUP has managed any movement without alienating its grassroots nor its voters.

    Also if the Unionist electorate had thought the DUP were failing they would have been punished either by loss of votes or non-voting and that hasn’t occured, so the narrative voting Unionists have about the DUP’s performance is generally positive.

  • Mick Fealty

    Right. A quick explication (yet again) of the ball not man rule. It is perfectly in order for you to accuse someone of talking bollocks, if you can demonstrate how and/or why.

    If you can’t (or more likely you can’t be ar*ed) you’re better off keeping your own counsel and saving me the hassle of reminding you and others to make your point substantive, rather making cheap jibes.

  • Yokel

    Right Mick,

    I just said why I thought he was talking bollocks but I will repeat it again in substantive terms.

    1. He’s playing inter unionist politics with the issue, ie he’s playing for his party with a stab at the DUP. I think thats patently clear. Does he really care in thsi article about the wider cause to which he subscribes? No, its a dig.

    2. He’s also doing the classic unionist tactic of bogeyman raising. Whether you or said Mr Kane likes the fact I’m calling his comments bollocks or not, that attitude is killing Unionism and has encouraged, indirectly, loyalist violence and has done for 30 years.

    The outworkings of this approach can be found it Alex chose to go up the Shankill Road for example. I bet he’d be terribly disappointed at how many many of his fellow unionists seem to take quite a violent view of how to deal with the situation here. It’s because, as Fair Deal mentions in more balanced family friendly viewing way, that its a ‘we’re doomed’ outlook that underpins it, its constantly about threat.

    Unionist politicos have been trotting out this line for years and people have bought it. If anyone like to show me how that line has EVER benefitted Unionism (other than maybe Carson and his whole Home Rule mullarky), go ahead.

    Maybe I put it in a very blunt and brief way but Alex needs to quit the panic & depression button pressing (and all to have a stab at the DUP, not out of any principle). By writing such articles he expects to shape and form opinion, and what he gives us is Private Frazer….its retrograde and a currency that can’t be spent on anything but street politics.

    In essence the short and angry post above still said the same thing. Sometimes it isnt about the volume Mick, its about the point. I cant not take the man out with the ball at the same time because it is the man who is by his attempts at opinion forming and shaing articles is talking Unionism into yet another bogeyman scenario and he is not doing it purely out of dispassionate analysis he’s doing it to stick one up his Unionist oppposition.

  • Alex. Kane

    Yokel:

    It isn’t just about having a stab at the DUP for party political advantage. I have criticised the UUP on many occasions as well, when I thought they were on the wrong track.

    What bogeyman have I raised? The DUP got shafted last Thursday. That much is fact–even their own people are admitting that to me off the record. When Robinson addressed his New York audience last Wednesday (and go and read the speech in full)it was clear that he believed that the Joint Statement was going to be a very different document. The DUP got turned over—and yes, exactly the same way as the UUP got turned over on previous occasions.

    My criticism of the DUP is based on the fact that they assured us that they were much better negotiators and that they wouldn’t be fobbed off or brushed off by Blair.

    The DUP’s response to the Joint Statement speaks volumes. Not one member of the party has praised even one element of it. Paisley has returned to the usual tactic of attack and urging all of unionism to stand against blackmail etc etc. Robinson, their chief negotiator, seems to have taken a vow of silence.

    The DUP know that last Thursday was a very bad day for them. They repeated the mistakes and fell into the same traps as the UUP have done in the past.

    Back in November 2003 I wrote that the DUP would be “more inventive, flexible and imaginative” than their critics would give them credit for. I warned the UUP not to assume that the DUPs would go into wrecking mode and I was one of the very few pundits who acknowledged that the DUP would “work hard and take risks for a deal.”

    Both you and Fair_Deal (Hi, by the way, hope all well with you)accuse me of a sense of panic or doom mongering. I am profoundly depressed by what has happened. Blair has now shafted the UUP and the DUP. Why? (Yes, F_D, the DUP have chalked up some useful successes, but the underlying trend still looks very bad for unionists) I sense, too (and I do a lot of non political or party politcal meeetings) a growing sense of frustration within the pro-Union community. If DUP voters—particularly those who have drifted to them since 1998—begin to feel that they can’t force change on Blair either, then all of the evidence indicates that they will simply stop voting. Again, very bad news.

    By the way, Yokel, I don’t worry too much about the man and ball rule. I’ve been long enough in the game to stand up for myself; and I think Fair_Deal will confirm that I don’t take it personally or bear grudges.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • Robert Keogh

    Alex,

    I think your fundamental point is flawed.

    1. Hain has rowed back on Blair’s intimation that there would be JA with the Republic, drastically reducing the big stick the joint statement appeared to be threatening the DUP with.

    2. Even if Joint-Authority was on the way it wouldn’t be an SF driven republican carnival of joy. In fact electoral politics in the Republic would come into play and Bertie would not be handing SF any political ammo they could use for electoral PR.

    3. Even if 1 & 2 were not true, your analysis appears predicated upon the assumptions that the IRA decom & official ending of the campaign were not genuine. I accept the IICD report and it’s been almost a decade since the IRA attacked the state. Given that the DUP’s reasons for refusing to enter power-sharing are artificial and spurious. Recall the recent poll of DUP supporters where less than 40% would enter power-sharing with SF even if the IRA completely, publicly and verifiably disbanded.

    4. SF wants to be in Stormont – it seems pretty pointless to pressure them along a path they’re already taking.

    While I don’t share your views I do find your pieces to be cogently argued and always interesting.

  • Brendan, Belfast

    Have to say – when I read the Alex Kane piece originbally i foound myself nodding in agreement more often than shaking my head. Why would SF go for the Blair / Ahern timeframe if what they are offered instead is effectively Joint Authority?

    Speaking as a nationalist last Thursday seemed to be me to be all about kicking unionism – no stick for the Sinners and should have been met with a shrug of the shoulders from the stoops.

    Mick – Tom Kelly’s Monday Irish News column is worth blogging alongside this, covering as it did some of the same ground – from a nationalist point of view.

  • Yokel

    We’ve now had two statements emanating from both the UK government and Dermot Ahern down below saying there is not going to be a Joint Authority because there can’t be on constitutional grounds. Robert’s point is spot on, not only has Hain rowed back but he’s pretty much defined the situation under which joint authority would have to come, ie it would have to be put to the vote.

    Peter Hain’s statement was particularly well timed, because we had elements in the DUP saying that they shouldn’t bother getting involved in the process with that particular sword over their head. Reality is that the two governmenst had to have the some clarification flushed out or else I’m not sure we’d have a process. Have no doubt the loyalist paramilitaries are also hovering the background.

    Brendan, whilst I agree that Sinn Fein has no particular threat hanging over it out this is largely because of the British government’s fear of them. I really get the impression that Tony Blair is intimidated by them. Also Blair has a limited timeframe with which to get his place in history and I reckon Sinn Fein know they have him by the short and curlies as they can act as fairy godmother. Blair on the other hand won’t get that type of approach from the DUP. If anyone thinks that Blair’s resolve here isn’t being driven by his own personal vanity forget it, it is.

    I also have to agree with Robert’s thoughts that a joint gvernement initiative would be a huge stick to beat the Shinners with and that for Sinn Fein Joint Authority doesn’t help their cause. People tend to forget that they are poltical party, their aim is power, its not as if they would dissolve on Irish unity which is their overwhelming reason to exist. They’d carry on alright.

    Alex, glad you don’t take the hump at a shin kicking. If it appears the DUP felt a bit duped, who was a) behind the duping, b) what did they expect and c) how are they going to shift the ground on which the debate is held because that seems the obvious counter rather than fighting on ground defined by someone else. No point in being depressed for long eh!

  • fair_deal

    Alex

    The Robinson speech was not about the Armagh initiative but about the upcoming talks as is the attendance at the Parliamentary Forum meeting. It is about communicating a willingness to engage. The NY speech was also to challenge the republican narrative of the process and the DUP.

    “The DUP’s response to the Joint Statement speaks volumes.”

    Yet the Sunday Times interpretation of the same was the exact opposite. The DUP’s disinterest was a sign of their contentment.

    “even their own people are admitting that to me off the record”

    I haven’t picked that up or anything even close from DUP contacts.

    “a growing sense of frustration within the pro-Union community.”

    I personally pick up more disinterest with others frustrated. There is more than one form of frustration, it can be spilt into two clear categories, those worried about the DUP doing a UUP and those frustrated there hasn’t been a deal done yet.

    “the DUP have chalked up some useful successes,”

    If they can chalk up a few successes in the “mini” talks that have been going on it should be considered a good omen for the larger talks. Also in the last intensive talks it was the Republican Movement ran away from the table unhappy to rob a bank not Unionism.

    “I am profoundly depressed by what has happened.”

    There is a strand of depression that runs through much of your material. This is far from the first piece to display it.

    “begin to feel that they can’t force change on Blair either, then all of the evidence indicates that they will simply stop voting.”

    A rational fear IF the future talks go badly. However, you allow the fear to become the focus rather than focus on ensuring the fear does not become a reality.

    “(Hi, by the way, hope all well with you)”

    Everything’s fine thanks, hope you are well too, we’ll have to grab a lunch sometime and catch up.

    “I think Fair_Deal will confirm that I don’t take it personally or bear grudges.”

    No he doesn’t.