Sinn Fein’s tightening noose on the DUP?

March’s Assembly poll may have to be put on hold to save the DUP from a bitter internal civil war. The Irish Daily Star’s Northern Political Columnist JOHN COULTER examines how he believes Sinn Fein has been tightening the noose on the Paisley camp in recent days.
By John Coulter

March’s Assembly poll could be put on hold if the DUP looks likely to take an electoral hammering because of any Sinn Fein logjam on policing, well placed Unionist sources claimed last night. The republican leadership has yet to confirm precisely when it will hold its SF ard fheis to ratify support for Northern policing.

DUP sources have indicated the Paisley camp wants SF to hold the much-needed ard fheis before 30 January – the date set for the temporary dissolution of the so-called ‘transitional’ Assembly to allow for the 7 March Stormont elections.

DUP boss Rev Ian Paisley has had to soak up considerable internal flak since his confirmation he would accept the nomination as First Minister – provided SF supports policing and there is a favourable outcome to the election.

In spite of the security crisis at Parliament Buildings on Freaky Friday, it is being widely interpreted SF may have backed the Big Man of Unionism into a tight political corner concerning the timing of the ard fheis.

In electioneering terms, the longer SF can delay its ard fheis, the harder it will be for the Paisley camp to sell the entire St Andrews Agreement to its religious fundamentalist hardliners, especially in North Antrim, Upper Bann and Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Before the 13 October Scottish deal, it was widely viewed the DUP comprised three factions – the fundamentalists around Paisley Senior; the pro-deal modernisers around deputy boss Peter Robinson, and the anti-deal ultras around MEP Jim Allister.

However, following the conclusion of this week’s resumed nomination debate, the DUP is perceived to have regrouped into two clearly defined camps, leaving Paisley Senior in the middle to keep the peace.

Robinson still has considerable clout in what is the majority pro-deal populist wing, while Allister’s anti-deal wing has been gaining ground – especially at the DUP’s grassroots level.

The real fear the pro-deal faction has – what happens if Unionist voters unhappy with the St Andrews Agreement look likely to switch their allegiance to North Down MLA Robert McCartney’s United Kingdom Unionists?

In such a scenario, where the DUP could lose considerable ground – and especially if SF has still not held the vital ard fheis – Northern Secretary Peter Hain may have to intervene to save the Paisley camp by postponing the 7 March poll, according to the Unionist sources.

These sources claim there is the danger the DUP could lose vital seats in its key strongholds to the UKUP, in much the same manner as David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists lost out to the UKUP in leading areas such as Lagan Valley in 1998.

It has been suggested given Unionist voter apathy and defections, the UKUP could pick up between eight and a dozen seats – most at the expense of the DUP.

To fend this nightmare off and maintain party unity, the DUP – like the UUP in 1998 and 2003 – may be forced to run anti-agreement candidates alongside pro-deal runners on the Paisleyite ticket.

It is also clear from SF boss Gerry Adams’ statements this week, the republican movement intends to make policing a major election issue in the nationalist community.

However, with recent polls suggesting a slip in support for SF, the republican leadership will not want to embrace Northern policing in a manner which is likely to see a further erosion either to the moderate SDLP, or a return of traditional abstentionism.

In this respect, SF is seriously considering the tactic of not holding the policing ard fheis until after the March poll, thereby maintaining its electoral support and placing Paisley Senior under even more political pressure.

While there has been talk of dissident republicans opposed to the present SF peace strategy forming a political Pan Republican Front to oppose SF candidates, the likely dissident tactic would be to encourage its supporters to boycott the elections.

SF currently has 24 Assembly seats to the SDLP’s 18. Significant levels of abstentionism in key republican strongholds, such as chief negotiator Martin McGuinness’s Mid Ulster constituency, could tip the nationalist balance back in favour of the SDLP.

As for the DUP, if SF held out on policing until after the 7 March poll, the tactic could lead to a formal splitting of the Paisley camp as fundamentalist leaning MLAs vent their anger at Ian Paisley Senior being forced to accept the nomination of First Minister.

In the meantime, the Christmas and New Year holidays will be used by both the DUP and SF to finalise their respective strategies.

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  • Porlock

    This is all guesswork, not one piece of which is sourced from within the DUP. [original piece moderated]

    It’s the same sort of make-it-up-as-you-go-along-guff that he trots out in the Irish Daily Star on a regular basis, changing the predictions depending on the latest gossip in UUP circles.

    I note on David Vance’s Tangled Web site that Coulter has another piece,in which he mostly contradicts this piece and then calls for the creation of what he describes as Revolutionary Unionism.

    Mick, you do a disservice to your readers by indulging Coulter. He has no insight into unionist thinking in either the DUP or UUP and never has had.


  • Glen Taisie

    Both Sinn Fein and the DUP are finding their U-turns difficult>

  • Bloodline of Carson

    Dear John,

    To come to the conclusion that the DUP’s present difficulties are in any way either in part or in whole as a result of Sinn Fein political manouverings are at best an insult to the intellect of any man woman or child that ever learned to tie a pair of shoe laces, at worst they are the equivalent of a party political broadcast on behalf of Sinn Fein.

    To also break the DUP into three sections the moderates, the mad, and the even madder only serves to highlight your inexperience and lack of knoweledge of the DUP, perhaps this distasteful pigeon-holing of people whom you obviously are not in contact with is driven more by a political preference and personal desire than any incisive analysis of a given situation.

    The very fact that Sinn Fein have been outfoxed at every turn by every party they have been in negotiations with should have dismissed this outrageous untruth from the very start, indeed if it had not been for the SDLP arse-slapping Sinn Fein at Leeds Castle we may well have been watching Sinn Fein members taking an oath of allegiance to the Queen and the B’ Specials.

  • parcifal

    well the simple thing for the DUP to do is to agree a timetable and a model for devolution of police and justice; this which would force SF into a January Ard Fheis.
    That’s how to get out of the corner.

  • I’ve tried, God I’ve tried. [Play the man! – moderator]

  • Chris Donnelly

    Possibly the worst piece of analysis I’ve read in many a year.

    Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein are under any real electoral threat- indeed, in the case of Sinn Fein, election gains rather than losses can be safely predicted at this stage, regardless of whether or not an Ard Fheis is held prior to an election or not.

    The idea of McCartney managing to get enough unionists to buy back into his UKUP fiasco is comical, given how soundly unionism in general rebuked that option in 2003, after the UKUP ego trip had self-destructed for McCartney.

    Coulter may have his strong points, but election predictions clearly ain’t one of them.

  • sense and able

    A suggestion – Hold a a six counties vote on a single issue; Deal or No Deal. Yes or No. Let all the parties have their say and then let the people speak. No conditional clauses. No provisos. No cards in the pocket. Tick a box – ‘Deal or No Deal’. This should be imposed by the British goverment as the natural legacy of the GFA. It’s what democracy dictates.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin


    Hammer the analysis all you like. John, I have no doubt, is a grown up. But leave the man playing to one side. Please!!

  • Porlock

    S O’Toole Admin;

    Why moderate my opening paragraph.

    Coulter’s piece wasn’t sourced from within the DUP and I told you the actual source.

    Surely it is up to him, rather than you, to come on and defend his sources?

    You have complained in the past about assorted posters claiming to have “sourced” something and giving precious little evidence.

    Coulter is a journalist—teaches it, as far as I know. So why didn’t he use the phrase “a DUP source” rather than “well placed Unionist sources.”? Simple, because his only source is UUP lunchtime gossip.


  • dpef


    You aren’t allowed to challenge journalists on this site, even if their story and ‘sources’ and are treated with ridicule everywhere else and open to major questions on truthfulness, accuracy, ability, motivation and honesty. See the multiple UDA hit squads story nonsense. Questioning the journalist, not just a commentator, in that case resulted in absolute deletion.

    I blame capitulation to unreasonable threats of legal action and the site owner wanting to make this a profitable venture thus attempting to keep the MSM sweet.

  • dpef

    unless of course it was a journalist from Daily Ireland (or the ATN group) or Brian Feeney and then you can say whatever you want. or Danny morrison, you were allowed to get stuck into him. Susan McKay too…

    Of course there is no pattern.

  • Mick Fealty


    That all of the writers you mention above feature fairly regularly on Slugger is a reflection of my estimation of the quality of their output.

    But the rules of the game remain the same for everyone: play the ball and not the man.

    I do what I can (when I can) to help keep order. But most of the time I simply have to leave to trust. Sometimes that trust is simply not repaid. But, more often it is.

  • Pete Baker

    And of course, we never, ever, actually criticise directly the UDA.. do we?

    [off sarcasm]

  • Truth and Justice

    This is total garbage

  • George

    “And of course, we never, ever, actually criticise directly the UDA.. do we? ”

    Criticising the UDA as some sort of stand alone criminal body, independent of the unionist community but feted by the British and Irish governments and merely to be combatted by the police, is hardly direct criticism.

    It is at best a press release for the UUP or DUP. Attention Editors: UDA Nothing to do with me guv.

    I agree with T&J that this Coulter piece is garbage.

  • Coulter’s articles are interesting but he speculates too widely and runs the risk of looking like the Cruiser when a prediction comes unstuck. Presently, it looks like the DUP will extend its MLA tally over the UUP next March. If it ever does happen it is too soon for any breakaway from the DUP’s right wing. Besides, anyone of talent would have reservations about sitting under Big Bob’s leadership, given past history. McCartney is best suited to the awkward gadfly role in op-ed pieces.

    On Question Time, Lord Turtle berated the DUP for not getting on with things. It’s a cackhanded position for the DUP’s main unionist rivals to take. Rushing into bad and incomplete deals helped propel Trimble into his ermine. Being criticised for taking their time will not hurt the DUP if they do enter into a deal with Sinn Fein because it will help their selling of any deal.

    As usual the UUP has got its strategy badly wrong. 18 months ago, I wrote an op-ed piece for Slugger where I said that the UUP could start clawing back support if it could take advantage of any poor negotiation on behalf of the DUP. That meant outflanking the DUP on the right. Instead it has dandered along in a pro-Agreement mindset and risks increasing irrelevance. It should be asking the hard questions presently being posed only by McCartney. Instead the UUP is a prisoner of its own past.

  • Smithsonian

    The Watchman
    You appear to think that we have all the time in the world. Whilst our politicians dither and procastinate jobs are being lost, industry is leaving in droves, farmers are closing up shop, planning strategy is in a mess, illegal dumping continues apace, our education system doesn’t know if its coming or going, underage drinking is rife, old peoples homes are being closed down….

    The challenges facing Northern Ireland are very real. We need some genuine political leadership, people that have the resources and ability to tackle these issues and not just moan from the sidelines.

    What we do not need is yesterday’s men fighting yesterdays battles.

  • Smithsonian,

    The only thing stopping local politicians from trying to address those problems is the republican movement’s lawlessness. So don’t go on with that pseudo-Alliance “Why oh why don’t the politicians get together” girning. Repetitive and wrong.

  • Smithsonian

    The Watchman
    Doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. The ship is sinking, the longer it takes to sort it out, the worse it gets. The politicians are fiddling while Rome burns.

    Mutually assured distruction is a lose, lose strategy. Northern Ireland is being wrecked by yesterday’s men.

  • The Watchman

    In relation to my previous posting, I forgot to mention that if the UUP was doing its job and holding the DUP to account over its negotiation, the nature of internal DUP debate would be changed and, from the point of view of a refusenik like me, for the better.


    I’m afraid responsibility for the impasse does actually matter because only when this is tackled can any sinking ship being steadied. The refusal of IRA/Sinn Fein to commit itself to democratic means cannot be equated to the refusal (?) of the DUP to share power with those who do not so commit themselves.

  • Smithsonian

    The Watchman
    The DUP won the last election(s) on the basis that they could deliver a new deal, a fair deal. They are leaders of Unionism now, they were the lead party at St. Andrews. The ball is at their toe, lets see how many goals they can score?

    As for waiting for this matter to be sorted out before we tackle the real bread and butter issues, do you really trust Sinn Fein that much? How long do you think it will take before the situation is properely resolved? A political lifetime? How much of the economy will be left by then?

    People are bored and fed up with politicans who talk the talk but cannot walk the walk. Yesterday’s men fighting yesterday’s battles.

  • Truth and Justice

    The reality of the whole St Andrews thing is that the UUP most of the DUP and PUP all support the St Andrews Agreement for once Unionism actualy is nearly united with the exception of McCartney and a few old timers in the DUP, if you look at the mess Sinn Fein then you would see that the DUPs stratergy is starting to work.

  • bertie


    Even if it is true that there is such agreement within unionism, that doesn’t mean that it is right.

  • Jim

    Anyone Heard of the new Political reality show up at Stormont? its called ‘Im a shinner get me in here’!!!