Robinson: direct ministerial appointments and OTRs are deal breakers

Are we back to December 2004? In a public response to a privately circulated document from the NIO, Peter Robinson today warned the British government that his party would not accept any attempt to appoint a justice minister and deputy over the heads of local political parties at Stormont.

“If that were ever to happen, it would be the death knell for devolution. The suggestion that a national government could appoint ministers to a devolved government is so preposterous that it is unworthy of devolution.”

He also warned against any concessions on the so called On The Runs. Both issues would, he appears to be saying, be deal breakers. Not quite the kind of response Sinn Fein may have been looking for in order to call its special Ard Fheis. Given such an icey reposte, will they call one?

For his part, Robinson (‘the reformer’) seems determined to run the risk of allowing a collapse of the whole devolution project and a resumption of Plan B. He may be gambling on Sinn Fein’s commitment to making their own necessary moves regardless of how the detail is worked. Or perhaps he is happy to take his chances with a new Labour Prime Minister and a new round of negotiations twelve months (or so) hence.

  • Pete Baker


    Similar comments were reported yesterday.

    But I think the reason behind it is to prevent any attempt at portraying the target date as an enforceable deadline.

    As I’ve said, it’s difficult to see how devolution of policing and justice could be imposed if the conditions on the ground were not agreed to be right – something even Peter Hain seems to have acknowledged.

    I tend to agree too, that the idea of appointing a Minister to an Executive of a fully functioning Assembly, ie not one of Hain’s recent creations, just wouldn’t be workable.

  • If Mr Robinson sticks to his word, and not forgetting the demands that the IRA return every penny from the Northern Bank raid, even if they did not do it, they must still take the blame.

    Then, post yes vote at the Ard Fheis for Gerry Adams on policing, the democratic bus will leave without the DUP.

    The paradox is that the DUP have always been saying the democratic process should move on without Sinn Fein,they are not fit for govt, now Sinn Fein can justifiably ask for the democratic process to move forward without the DUP, as they will show themselves unfit/unwilling for govt.

    I am sure there are other Unionists who will take up the seats vacated by the DUP, even the Brit govt could appoint officials to fill the void.

    Sinn Fein can then go about securing their seats and making real change in NI a reality.

    The bus is leaving DUP,
    Ding Ding

  • German-American

    Robinson’s comments on the outcome of the Ard Chomhairle meeting (“”If they want a positive response to what they do then they will have to do something”) seem reminiscent of DUP comments on past IRA decommissioning announcements: basically refusing to publicly recognize an opponent’s concession as a concession. (Not that the DUP is the only player at this game: I think SF has been guilty of it with its endless gripes about concessions on policing not being significant because they weren’t “the full Patten”.)

    I should note here that I do think the Ard Chomhairle motion, even given remaining ambiguity about what it means, was a significant concession in principle on the part of SF (as evidenced by the denunciations of it on Slugger and elsewhere), and I’ve previously commented, I think concessions on matters of principle are important. So from my point of view as an outsider the DUP seem to be being willfully refusing to recognize new realities.

    I’m not sure what strategic game the DUP is playing (or thinks it’s playing), but it seems that there are some dangers in playing this one. If SF makes a concession and the DUP dismisses it, then the British government in its self-advertised role as “honest broker” may be motivated to tilt the table a bit towards SF in order to keep them at it. I presume this may be behind the British government seemingly deliberately sowing some ambiguity over whether the DUP has the veto over policing that it’s claimed it has.

  • Mick Fealty


    If you site search this site for the words ‘move on without’ you’ll find it has been used by both parties.

    “Brit govt could appoint officials to fill the void.

    I am not convinced this is any more likely to be implemented than SDLP’s appointed commissioners idea.

    It seems unlikely that without consent and agreement on both sides, any bus is going to leave the station. Plan B in that sense is actually a continuous non event.

  • Alex

    This is ‘Robbo’ beating his chest and playing the hardman in response to Allister, McCrea etc, the issue of govt appointed ministers is’nt going to come up until next year, does anyone really believe the DUP will allow their veto to be shown as a sham.

  • German-American

    Mick: “It seems unlikely that without consent and agreement on both sides, any bus is going to leave the station. Plan B in that sense is actually a continuous non event.”

    I think you are correct in this assessment, as well as in your previous comments on the “prosaic” nature of Plan B. Perhaps I’m being a naive outsider again, but absent agreement among the parties within Northern Ireland I don’t see any appetite among other parties for a major change to the status quo: The British government appears to care primarily about preventing a resumption of violence and secondarily reducing the drain on the treasury, the Irish government seems to be most interested in economic integration of the north into the southern economy (with NI playing the role of Canada to the ROI’s US), and the “Irish question” is off the radar of the US government for the foreseeable future. Thus all three governments would presumably be willing and able to live with a Plan B that entailed only minor tweaking of the status quo as necessary and desirable.

  • Maybe so, but for the first time there will be a consensious of opinion, apart from the DUP, that Sinn Fein are fit for govt.

    Surely then, given the Unionist hostility to any cross border co-operation, Plan B will be interpreted as detremental to the Unionist cause.

    Perhaps the OTR and appointed justice minister issues will be the only things left and at the last minute they are dropped, calling everyone’s bluff??

  • Yokel

    The German American individual is correct, the Plan B at this stage doesn’t even exist and if it has to be made up, it won’t represent and major step anywhere other than getting the local politicians off the gravy train.

  • Aaron McDaid

    Why is DUP hostility to power-sharing automatically interpreted as unionist hostility to power-sharing? It’s the people of NI (unionist and otherwise) who might decide to move on without the DUP unless the DUP change track.

  • Mick Fealty


    “…for the first time there will be a consensus of opinion”

    Isn’t that the same consensus we had before October 2002? Since November 2003, after Trimble’s failure to secure a transparently significant act of decommissioning from the IRA, all three governments’ efforts have been about squaring a peculiar circle that includes both SF and the DUP.

  • Policing was always the major barrier and something that Sinn Fein needed to address.

    In 2003 and since the policing issue was not resolved, now that looks like being resolved the consensious is on much more firm ground.

    Weapons have gone, policing agreed, this time the ball is firmly in the DUP court.

  • Nationalist

    The British Government need to move and address the OTR issue with legislation allowing them to return. If the DUP are not going to accept it so be it, but the British Government should not be held hostage to the past by the DUP. The armed conflict is over and so the issue of past “Crimes” should also be dropped.

    Does anyone really believe that the issue will end the DUPs want to take the reins of power?

    If the DUP keep putting issues of “Deal Breakers” in the way then the Government need to call their bluff and if they don’t want to participate in the Assembly Government then offer their seats to other Unionists. If others do not want to take up the seats then the Government should appoint a Quango to run those Departments – they have ample experience of have quangos run various Agencies in the North over the years.

    The Chairman of each quango can then report to the Assembly Ministers from Sinn Fein and the other parties. Thus any notion of continuous DUP veto on every aspect of political movement is removed.

    If they then decide they are willing to participate in a full democratic state at some time in the future then they can take up the posts.

    The past is gone and everyone is so very tired of all this and would like to start anew with respect for other peoples views and beliefs – everyones views and beliefs not just those of Fanatical DUP Bible thumpers.

  • kensei

    “The German American individual is correct, the Plan B at this stage doesn’t even exist and if it has to be made up, it won’t represent and major step anywhere other than getting the local politicians off the gravy train.”

    Logical, Plan B has to move in the green direction, otherwise it is the status quo. The most likely scenario is moving some of the Assembly’s power to the super councils, and the South having a bit more input, without having any real teeth.

    If the DUP keep up with endless preconditions then republicans should just call their bluff and see what happens.

  • German-American

    To make one more comment on Plan B: Perhaps I’m being overly cynical, but it seems to me that the British and Irish governments, and especially the British, have simply used “Plan B” as a way to float rumors of concessions to one side whenever the other side was being intransigent. This was presumably made more effective because the British government has been the intermediary in negotiations and has therefore been free to introduce spurious noise into the channel as it suits its interests.

    That’s one reason I think the DUP would be well-advised to engage in direct negotiations with SF: It would remove an opportunity for British government mischief and also provide an opportunity (should they care to use it) for the two parties to work together to extract more concessions from the British government. Of course doing this in a public manner would violate a DUP “sacred value”, namely “we don’t negotiate with terrorists or their representatives”, and thus would be perceived as a compromise of moral principles.

    However if SF keeps moving in the direction it appears to be moving then at some point this refusal to talk runs the risk of being perceived even by unionists as less a matter of principles and more as simple pigheadedness. I guess the DUP is relying on that not happening until well after the next election.

  • Pete Baker

    Getting back to the original topic, it’s worth noting the criticism by Peter Robinson of Gerry Adams’ speech

    The DUP deputy leader said, “I do not think unionists will be convinced by Sinn Fein giving support to the PSNI and the British courts in Northern Ireland that it is in real terms a step towards a united Ireland.”

    “Most people will recognise he is attempting to put a gloss on it for republicans.”

    “It would be far better if people were to recognise that in a democratic society you could not have people in government who do not support the police and the courts.”

    “That support is an essential step for anyone who aspires to be in government.”

    And that the debate on the target date relates to conditions Sinn Féin set for themselves

  • BeardyBoy

    It seems to me that Peter is painting himself into a corner – if the British Govt says OTR’s can return the DUP can do nothing about it, if they say deal is off it makes no difference, the OTR’s will still be here if they want to be.

    In this case the DUP will be the bad boys and will suffer some sort of knuckle rapping – yet more ground lost. You should know better than to threaten a Govt in a fashion that they have to either punish you or be seen as weak.

    If they shout and scream and ask for a concessional crumb as a sop for their own people they would be better off.

    Still – let us hope it all falls on its nose and mooth and we go back to no agreement and instability