“Any poker player would want to take Blair for all he’s got.”

In the Sunday Times, Liam Clarke provides a not unreasonable assessment of the state of play

The DUP holds the strongest hand of any unionist party in decades. For one thing, it doesn’t have Paisley snapping at its heels. But the next few months will determine its skill at playing poker.

Given the various mood music emanting from the usual suspects, Clarke’s opening lines are worth highlighting.

There is a growing feeling that, as we enter the latest talks season in Northern Ireland, the DUP is under pressure to make concessions. Sinn Fein, on the other hand, flushed in the afterglow of IRA decommissioning and two favourable reports from the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC), is the party with choices and options.

In fact, the opposite is the case. The DUP has an extremely strong hand and it is Sinn Fein that is under pressure to deliver. There is no imperative for a deal to be done by November 24, the deadline imposed by the British and Irish governments. The DUP can afford to stretch it into next year and let the pressure mount on Sinn Fein. And Ian Paisley’s party can expect to extract billions in public spending promises from the British government as Tony Blair struggles to secure his legacy.