Unionists beware of false promises…

Alex Kane does a spot of fisking of Peter Robinson’s speech in New York recently. He warns Unionists that despite the warnings to the contrary, the most recent Joint Statement was hardly a pro-Union document. In effect, he argues, the DUP will need more than sweet rhetoric. Given the absence of any meaningful coercion on Sinn Fein, it needs figure out how to close a stable deal rather than rely on the vague promises of Tony Blair or his ministers.By Alex Kane

In the weekend before the Joint Statement, the DUP was briefing the media that “the party is broadly satisfied with what will be proposed.” So satisfied, in fact, that a high level delegation left for America to meet and brief senators, congressmen, White House officials and newspaper editorial boards.

Twenty-four hours before the Joint Statement was released, Peter Robinson addressed The National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York. It was an important and wide ranging speech. But the most important aspect of it was that Robinson clearly believed that the Joint Statement would be very different to the one that was produced by Blair and Ahern.

Let’s look at some key paragraphs:

“Some people say the DUP will be under massive pressure come November. That is not the case. The deadline is for republicans to meet not the DUP.”

The reality, however, is that it is the DUP who have been put under massive pressure in the run-up to November.

“What is sure is that Sinn Fein will not meet the government’s deadline if they continue whinging about the two governments following a DUP agenda…”

Again, the reality was different, for the two governments simply dumped the DUP agenda and skewed the Joint Statement towards Sinn Fein’s agenda.

“It was for this reason we suggested getting the Assembly up and running at a non-executive level. This would give the Sinn Fein leadership time to deal conclusively with paramilitarism and criminality. Parties would be working together within that structure allowing trust and confidence to grow.”

But the Joint Statement puts no pressure at all on Sinn Fein or the IRA. And nor does it provide the scrutiny and shadow aspects which the DUP were clearly expecting.

“To better understand my party’s position and intent let me give you all a glimpse of the final hours of the failed 2004 negotiations as I witnessed them…””

He then goes into great detail about negotiations with both governments (admitting, by inference, that Sinn Fein was also included within the overall negotiation process) in the run-up to the Comprehensive Agreement. Again, it is clear from the tone of the speech that he is providing political background to explain the context for what he believed was in the Joint Statement.

Whatever else Peter Robinson may be, he is not a stupid man. And nor is he a man who travels half way across the world to throw caution to the wind and make up the contents of the Joint Statement. That Wednesday afternoon he believed it would include: a shadow administration; pressure in November would be exclusively on Sinn Fein; the DUP’s agenda would be given priority; and, as a direct consequence of DUP efforts, “more balance from governmental measures.” But none of that was in the Joint Statement.

The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that the DUP got “turned over” by Tony Blair. Indeed, I suspect that they were shown one form of words in the week before the publication of the Joint Statement, but, by the following Thursday, it had become a palimpsest, bearing Sinn Fein’s imprint.

I further suspect that the DUP was in deep shock by lunchtime on Thursday. So shocked, that it took them four days to give an official response to the contents. Odd, too, that the Assembly Party felt it necessary to “unanimously endorse” the party leadership’s handling of the process, yet without a single word about any successes contained in the Joint Statement. And Jeffrey Donaldson’s comments, yesterday, hardly amounted to a ringing endorsement of his new party’s tactical skills.

If my assessment is an accurate one—and I think it is—then it represents a matter of enormous concern for both unionist parties and all of unionism. Let us not forget that the Ulster Unionist Party was similarly “turned over” by Blair on October 21st, 2003. This is not a moment for unionists to panic, but it is time for them to realise that mere rhetoric isn’t going to be enough for this particular battle.

  • fair_deal

    This seems an adaption/justification of his previous piece with a more measured tone rather than doom-laiden.

    I must make the general comment that most Unionist commentators provide an analysis of a situation. They often conclude that “something must be done” but never offer that something. Robert McCartney’s pieces are a classic example of this and this article is in a similar vein.

    Alex overlooks the importance of narrative. Sinn Fein is trying to construct the narrative that the pressure is on the DUP. The DUP is trying to push the narrative that the pressure is on the republican movement. Alex’s piece actually pushes the republican narrative undermining the objective he wishes Unionism to achieve. Alex can still provide an analysis about the dangers or pitfalls of the process without reinforcing the republican narrative nor producing “the garden is super rosy” comment of Gavin Robinson. He might also like to offer some suggestions.

    For his claims of DUP impotence it had little difficulty in getting the joint authority tripe stood on repeatedly. Yesterday Hain’s examples of cross-border co-operation i.e. cheaper mobile calls were hardly grounds for panic.

  • fair_deal

    The previous piece mentioned

    [edited link – Moderator]

  • Yokel

    I haven’t got me PRedator boots on for Alex today but what i still havent seen os if this is the situation what can be done to change it?

    Alex, bring us solutions not problems.

  • JD

    So the hieght of unionist confidence that joint authority is not on thw way, is a couple of speeches by Peter Hain. Unionism must be more gullible than I thought, you now trust the British Government. The administrative structures are being drawn at present, although I think that they have been in existance for sometime, and you do not need formal administrative structure for a bit of mobile phone negotiation. Beware the wolf in sheeps clothing.

  • fair_deal

    “the hieght of unionist confidence that joint authority is not on thw way, is a couple of speeches by Peter Hain”

    The requirement of a popular vote for any constitutional change is the real protection not a Hain speech. Also Hain’s comments provide more of a basis than what nationalists based their claims about it in the first place ie press speculation and wishful thinking.

  • JD

    The DUP are happy to see an international agreement that was endosed in a national referendum, dumped or amended without reference to the people who voted for it. The British Government seem to have little difficulty complying with these wishes, why would they feel that they could not tinker or change constituencial issues without recourse to the electorate. Your faith in the British keeping to international agreements is misplaced, the DUP cannot have it both ways.

  • fair_deal

    JD

    JD

    1. The Agreement people voted for included a review process that allowed for changes. So changes are permitted.
    2. The first to “change” the Agreement was the Irish government who narrowed the entitlement to Irish citizenship that was in the Agreement.
    3. The DUP are on record as preferring Assembly election after changes were agreed to give changes democratic endorsement.
    4. The principle of consent predates the Belfast Agreement. It also has a position in international law beyond the Agreement.

  • George

    I have say I was taken by the DUP’s silence on the Joint Declaration so Alex might have a point on that one. I was also taken by SF’s relative silence too, I might add. First Fianna Fail reclaim 1916 and if there is no Assembly they will have greater influence on how northern nationalists are governed than Sinn Fein. Who needs to set up north of the border when you can do just as much from Dublin. All this in an election year.

    Fair_deal,
    true, there is the requirement of a popular vote for constitutional change but, in the absence of the Assembly, the British government will be able to decide as they see fit, how Northern Ireland is run, including if that means a policy of “joint stewardship”.

    This joint stewardship can go a long, long way before it runs up against any kind of constitutional wall. It seems the people the DUP are expecting to keep the joint stewardship in check are the British government because they themselves have no power to stop it. Apart, of course from the hope of a hung government in the UK sometime in the future. Little chance of that one.

    From the DUP:
    “we again take this opportunity of warning the Government that threats of joint management with the Irish Republic will be of no benefit to the process and will have no influence on Democratic Unionists.”

    What will they do to stop the joint management?

    “Such behaviour will be met with the disdain it deserves.”

    The DUP go on to say “the unionist community will resist any attempt to undermine the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the DUP stands ready to provide leadership in such circumstances”.

    How will they resist and for how long? What will they resist? How far down the joint management path will the governments have to go before the DUP mobilise? What will be the catalyst for all of unionism to unite?

    As they have no hands on the reigns of power, the only path open to them is civil disobedience, violence and/or intimidation.

    I hope it would be civil disobedience but even if it this, it could very well lead on to violence by loyalists. What then?

    Let’s wait and see how unlimited the upcoming emergency legislation is.

  • JD

    FD,

    1.The DUP are looking for, and seem to be getting, changes to the GFA as a precondition to the institutions being set up, this outside the review mechanisms of the GFA, that must have cross community support for fundamental changes.

    2. The Irish Government made changes to its constitution to take account of the GFA, as agreed, how Irishness is defined was a matter for the Irish people and recieved that endorsement.

    3. Preferring Assembly elections does not equate to people having the right to vote on the changes to a historic compromise. People endorse parties for a wide range of reasons, changes should require a new referendum with a 2/3 majority to change fundamental aspects.

    4.The consent principle applies in a scenario of a final decision on whether or not to reunify the country. Joint authority arrangements will be a decision for the two Governments, who can use whatever terminology necessary to get them around any legal difficulties, expediency will always win the day. If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, all that type of stuff. You may be given numerous fig leaves to hide your dignity FD by Hain and the BG, but naked you will be.

  • fair_deal

    “this outside the review mechanisms of the GFA, that must have cross community support for fundamental changes.”

    Err wrong. It makes no mention of cross-community support simply consultation

    Review procedures following implementation

    Each institution may, at any time, review any problems that may arise in its operation and, where no other institution is affected, take remedial action in consultation as necessary with the relevant Government or Governments. It will be for each institution to determine its own procedures for review.

    If there are difficulties in the operation of a particular institution, which have implications for another institution, they may review their operations separately and jointly and agree on remedial action to be taken under their respective authorities.

    If difficulties arise which require remedial action across the range of institutions, or otherwise require amendment of the British-Irish Agreement or relevant legislation, the process of review will fall to the two Governments in consultation with the parties in the Assembly. Each Government will be responsible for action in its own jurisdiction.

    Notwithstanding the above, each institution will publish an annual report on its operations. In addition, the two Governments and the parties in the Assembly will convene a conference 4 years after the agreement comes into effect, to review and report on its operation.

    “The consent principle applies in a scenario of a final decision on whether or not to reunify the country.”

    The principle is broadly defined:

    recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status

    “how Irishness is defined was a matter for the Irish people”

    You have begun to contradict yourself. You said it couldn’t be changed now you say it can if the Irish want to change their bit.

    “changes should require a new referendum with a 2/3 majority to change fundamental aspects.”

    Another contradiction, you are advocating changes to the Belfast Agreement which you said was unacceptable.

    “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck,”

    Mobile charges don’t walk like a duck or talk like a duck.

    The scenario post November talked about is not something that should make Unionists happy neither is it the nirvana some nationalists think it is.

  • kensei

    “The requirement of a popular vote for any constitutional change is the real protection not a Hain speech. Also Hain’s comments provide more of a basis than what nationalists based their claims about it in the first place ie press speculation and wishful thinking.”

    It’s a starting point, remember. And if the Assembly collapses and it is painted as a failure of Unionism, the pressure is all one way.

    It’ll not be JA for a while, but I guarentee you Nationlism will like it a lot more than Unionism.

  • lib2016

    It’ll not be JA because the British government has already accepted that it is no longer politically possible for it to exercise authority in most of Northern Ireland, nor is it economically viable in the long term.

    We’re in the middle of a British withdrawal, one which will take several Parliamentary sessions to complete but a handover of authority to the people of Ireland is a very different thing from dividing it between two sovereign governments.

  • George

    Fair_Deal,
    “If difficulties arise which require remedial action across the range of institutions, or otherwise require amendment of the British-Irish Agreement or relevant legislation, the process of review will fall to the two Governments in consultation with the parties in the Assembly. Each Government will be responsible for action in its own jurisdiction.”

    That can also be read as “if the parties refuse to work the Agreement, the two Governments will put in place relevant legislation and tell/consult the parties what we are doing.”

    “Consult” just means they will hear what the parties have to say before deciding whether to ignore it or not.

    Watch what happens with the legislation that passes through Westminster.

    Just to clarify one thing, I don’t believe there will be joint stewardship with a strong nationalist flavour but once the emergency legislation is in, I believe there will be absolutely nothing to stop the governments from doing it if the will is there.

  • Wise one

    ‘We’re in the middle of a British withdrawal, one which will take several Parliamentary sessions to complete but a handover of authority to the people of Ireland is a very different thing from dividing it between two sovereign governments’
    No you live here mate. There is little sign of round the parts of NI I frequent – Counties Down, Tyrone, Armagh!
    Admas and SF have sold Republicanism down the river.

  • Conservative Commentator

    Having failed to find any reason why the UUP should continue to exist Alex has decided just to slag the DUP!

  • Alex Kane

    Morning “Conservative Commentator”:

    There are lots of good reasons why the UUP should continue to exist and there is clearly still a role for it over the years.

    I’m not just slagging off the DUP. I’m merely pointing out—which is what commentators and columnists do—that the DUP have got their fingers very badly burned. And I have noted, on more than one occasion, as it happens, that the problems being experienced by the DUP have a huge impact on all of unionism.

    Fair_Deal has a valid point, though. I tend to point out problems rather than suggest solutions. F_D I will address that very issue in two weeks time.

    Best wishes,

    Alex.

  • fair_deal

    “I tend to point out problems rather than suggest solutions. F_D I will address that very issue in two weeks time.”

    Look forward to it

  • lib2016

    Wise One,

    The current issue of the Economist magazine, voice of the Establishment that it is, has a leader contrasting the weakness of the unionist community shrinking and demoralised with the expanding strength of the nationalist community and pointing out the need for the DUP to find a settlement urgently, if it is to find one at all.

    Meanwhile recent events in Lurgan and North Down show that even east of the Bann continued British occupation is not a longterm solution.

    Two years before the Brits got out of Cyprus they were claiming to be in it for the long haul. They cannot control most of the North without a military occupation and that is no longer politically or economically viable. Watch and wait – it won’t be long before the pressure on the DUP becomes visible.

  • Stephen Copeland

    fair_deal,

    “I tend to point out problems rather than suggest solutions. F_D I will address that very issue in two weeks time.”

    Look forward to it

    Before you became a Slugger Blogger, FD, you said that you were working on an analysis of the unionist situation, and that you would use your Blogger role to feed it into the debate.

    I don’t remember seeing any of it yet. But if, in your analysis, there are ‘solutions’ (to what problems?), you might also wish to contribute them?

  • darth rumsfeld

    Alex
    the only reason for the UUP to exist is to provide a sweeper for the liberal Unionist voters who feel themselves to be superior to Paisley. No new members; no new insights; no new policies.

    That’s not to endorse either the DUP or the current process. The attempt to postpone the next election should only be viewed as an advance measure to protect an intended DUP-SF/IRA coalition from the section of Unionism that voted DUP to keep Adams and Co out of government. And anyone who thinks Big Ian-perhaps as opposed to will be stupid enough to ignore the lessons of trimble is a fool

  • lib2016

    darth

    IMHO The reason why the election will be postponed is the slight possibility of a split unnionist vote allowing Sinn Fein to become the largest party. That will happen eventually but it is in no-one’s interest for it to happen prematurely.

  • Stephen Copeland

    darth rumsfeld,

    the only reason for the UUP to exist is to provide a sweeper for the liberal Unionist voters who feel themselves to be superior …

    Pretty much exactly the same position as the Alliance Party when it was set up then? Except that then it was to sweep up after the UUP.

    If the UUP is the new Alliance Party, then what role has the latter? Will the NIO start to drop it from its privileged position in terms of quango appointments? Or will it just die a natural (electoral) death (à la NIWC et al)?

  • Curious

    Yeah that was a particularly weak article in the Economist.
    Why would the British leave have seen off the IRA?

  • fair_deal

    SC

    “you said that you were working on an analysis of the unionist situation, and that you would use your Blogger role to feed it into the debate. I don’t remember seeing any of it yet. But if, in your analysis, there are ‘solutions’ (to what problems?), you might also wish to contribute them?”

    Yes I did mention that paper. I haven’t forgotten about it. The early sections are being reviewed by friends (I should get there feedback this weekend) and someone is tidying up my GCSE English. It does offer suggestions whether they are solutions is up to others. Although I have an offer that would involve the analysis remaining private I am still minded to put it on here.

    I need to talk to Mick as well about how a positive debate can be achieved. I wish to avoid ad hominen commentary eg you are ignoring that Unionism is inherently sectarian based on false consciousness etc etc.

  • Dear all

    As you know, for nigh on ninety years, the firm of Kane & co have served up poor man’s Faulknerism to one and all. But after a long and arduous service to the Agreement fixated, this service is now in danger. At the moment, the firm’s MD, Alex Kane, gets by on his thrupenny bit from the News Letter, and, rather more importantly, his Stormont researcher’s salary from Esmond Birnie. Papish tool and crypto-Boer Peter Hain intends to deprive our Alex of this money, and spend it on extra sunbed sessions, this very autumn. Only we, the morally-superior-to-Paisley, non-Donaldson-short-sighted, flirted-with-the-Tories-but-came-back-home, Ulster Unionist people of Unionist Ulster can save the Kane. If only ten friends of Lord Rogan could be found who’d put aside the money they’d otherwise just spend on tickets for Lansdowne Rd, Alex could afford the mortgage this year. If twenty friends of John Taylor could be found, we’d all be heartily surprised. And if 30 friends of Alex could be found, he could go for Esmond’s job next time round …..

    Please, give generously. And remember, Unionists don’t just in-fight of their own accord, and needlessly spread self-destructive, chicken-little gloom and despair for petty factional reasons. They need to be paid to do so.