That advice to the DUP to treat the St Andrews Agreement as a victory would appear to be in doubt this morning. Jim Allister’s doubts on the deal (more later) takes up the front page of the Newsletter this morning, and Frank Millar’s piece in the Irish Times notes gaps opening up between the British understanding and that of party leader Ian Paisley.
DUP leader the Rev Ian Paisley yesterday confirmed his understanding – first reported in Saturday’s Irish Times – that he and Sinn F�in’s Martin McGuinness would be required to take the pledge before the Northern Assembly in order to be nominated first and deputy first ministers-designate on November 24th.
However, the Northern Ireland Office last night said it believed the ministerial pledge would not become “an issue” until the executive was nominated as per the proposed timetable on March 26th.
Suggesting either “confusion” within or “over-spinning” by the DUP, senior Whitehall sources said the new ministerial pledge would be enshrined in law by November 24th, but that neither Dr Paisley nor Mr McGuinness would be required to take it until the new executive was set to “go live”.
This is new territory for the DUP. They have excelled in the past in taking out the player/party in front. It remains to be seen if they can hold their nerve (and a sprawling coalition) together in face of these kinds of slippages of understanding that arise from doing a deal and then having to defend it publicly.
The problem they are likely face with this agreement is that it is even less tidy than the hated Belfast Agreement. Their advantage, ironically, is that this minor iteration leaves the vast and stable bulk of the Belfast Agreement intact. And that there is little scope for anyone to mount a sustainable attack on them from the right.
And none of the parties are likely to let policing remain outside the loop before the Assembly’s re-start.