Judging from the body language in the car park yesterday there appears to be concern within the DUP over keeping the horses together. They had been by far the most animated party on the Assembly benches, and afterwards, the two statements appear to confirm that the frictions are real enough beneath the surface. However, it is interesting to note that the ‘not in a political lifetime’ quote, widely attributed to Nigel Dodds as evidence of an internal split, was actually taken directly from one of Peter Robinson’s parliamentary contributions, back in May. It was noticeable too that in the Chamber, Mark Durkan was volubly cheered by the DUP benches every time he laid the allegation at Sinn Fein that they had freely given the DUP a secure lock on when and whether the ministerial oversight gets devolved to the Assembly. It is something that Sinn Fein ceded in principle during the failed negotiation of the Comprehensive Agreement, and welcomed 18 months later with the passing into UK legislation of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.
It is not inconceivable that some individuals, still unreconciled to power sharing with Sinn Fein, take this at face value and view it as a permanent lock on keeping them out of government. For the pragmatists, it could be a decent bargining chip, if there is actually any real negotiating going on over the issue.
In reality, it is only there so long as the UK parliament deems the Assembly a viable route to the future. If there was any doubt that the current shadow Assembly is anything other than a vassal of Westminster, Ian Paisley proved it yesterday.
As Peter Hain has proved time and again this year, Westminster is where the real power still lies in Northern Ireland.
Don’t hold your breathe for a rosy folksy outcome. This is negotiation up to a deal, through a deal, and beyond deal.