Will the DUP horse actually drink the water?

Frank Millar in an Op Ed the Irish Times (subs needed) is cautiously upbeat about the likelihood of a successful deal. The timing however, he believes, will turn on the degree to which Ian Paisley is prepared countenance a possible split in his political project. But, as ever, the questions facing the party are more complex than that. Not least because in scoring what may be a crucial win over the issue of policing, there are likely to be diminishing future returns, even under a Brown premiership. A split is not likely, though inability to agreed within the timeframe is possible:

Among the serious players as yet unconvinced by Mr Blair, of course, are senior members of what is sometimes referred to as the DUP’s “collective leadership”. This may in the past have been an amusing concept to an all-powerful Dr Paisley, but it is an extreme irritant now as his seemingly monolithic party battles perceptions of doubt and growing division.

Before members of the leadership rush to complain, this is not to suggest the DUP is about to split, Ulster Unionist-style. Even as they manoeuvre to define/shift/maintain positions, the DUP’s elected representatives show remarkable discipline. “We’re like family when all is said and done,” explains one of their number: “We’re not going to go the way of [ David] Trimble’s party.”

However, in a parliamentary party of nine MPs, Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, David Simpson and William McCrea, acting apparently in concert with party chairman Lord Morrow and MEP Jim Allister, represent a significant strand of unionist opinion.

Coalescing around a strict interpretation of stated DUP policy, it seems reasonable to assume this group was at least a factor in preventing the further advance in Dr Paisley’s position that Mr Adams and the two governments had hoped to hear over the Christmas period.

But, he notes, internal deference is not quite what it used to be:

That said, the attempt to hold Dr Paisley to a defined period in which to “test” Sinn Féin’s bona fides – and the resistance to any commitment to a timetable for the devolution of policing powers – has every appearance of being confident and co-ordinated. Former diehard loyalists no longer exhibit quite the same faith in “the Big Man”, while some potential successors sense the march of time and suspect him in too much of a hurry to secure a radically-revised “legacy” of his own.

Backbenchers, but…

…in a parliamentary party of nine MPs, Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, David Simpson and William McCrea, acting apparently in concert with party chairman Lord Morrow and MEP Jim Allister, represent a significant strand of unionist opinion.

Coalescing around a strict interpretation of stated DUP policy, it seems reasonable to assume this group was at least a factor in preventing the further advance in Dr Paisley’s position that Mr Adams and the two governments had hoped to hear over the Christmas period.

He hints at some over heating and frustration within what might be loosely described as the ‘pro-deal’ camp:

Anyone who thinks completing the DUP transition to power-sharing will be comfortable – or is cavalier about Dr Paisley’s need for maximum unity in the next phase of hoped-for political development – could actually undermine the prospect of eventual agreement.

Better then, perhaps, to discard name-calling and abuse, allow Dr Paisley to conduct his own internal debate, and acknowledge that there is much in the current state-of-play to concern even some enthusiasts for a new deal.

Interestingly he notes that Downing Street spin is not helping individuals inside the party come to a settled view about the quality of the deal on offer. A deal which may have more to commend it than the widespread suspicion of Downing Street’s possible ulterior motives is allowing for.

By contrast no one in the leadership is remotely threaten by the notion of a plan B:

…the DUP leadership is as unimpressed by suggestions that “Plan B” can ever amount to tacit Joint British/Irish Authority, as it is about the much-hyped British/Sinn Féin deal over the relationship between the PSNI and MI5.

But…

…the widespread perception within the republican community may be that, in real terms, the Adams leadership has already gone through the pain barrier. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, like Mr Blair, certainly appears to anticipate that changes in attitudes to the PSNI will swiftly follow on foot of the ardfheis.

Indeed, Mr Blair’s insistence that full support for the police can still facilitate devolution by March 26th might seem to suggest – contrary to the ardfheis motion – that Martin McGuinness will be able to take the pledge of office promising to uphold the rule of law and support the PSNI by that date.

If he cannot (whether because of Sinn Féin’s conditions – or because in such circumstances they choose to interpret the pledge itself as conditional) that will not be a problem for Dr Paisley, though it would certainly torpedo Mr Blair’s March deadline.

Recent changes to the deal previously on offer have changed the substance and trajectory of this process…

But Mr Blair has ascertained the direction of travel and, though grinding slow, the process has moved on significantly. Even if interrupted by temporary breakdown on March 26th, the prime minister can calculate that Mr Adams has nowhere else to go and that for Dr Paisley – for whom, unlike Mr Adams, devolution is actually a strategic goal – the question is probably no longer “if”, but “when”.

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  • Briso

    >>or because in such circumstances they choose to interpret the pledge itself as conditional

    What’s that supposed to mean? Cross fingers behind their backs like the late Tony Banks?

    If you take the pledge, you take it.

  • lib2016

    What a roundabout way of saying that we shouldn’t point out that the DUP Emperor has no clothes in case we embarrass him.

    Just shows what a useful function blogs fulfill if that is the best a ‘paper of record’ can come up with.

  • Briso,

    Common sense would tell you so. But everything (so far) is conditional on other things being completed. Sinn Fein has been seeking a committment on devolution of Policing and Justice powers.

    In theory the pledge itself could be Salami sliced:

    (cd) to uphold the rule of law based as it is on the fundamental principles of fairness, impartiality and democratic accountability, including support for policing and the courts as set out in paragraph 6 of the St Andrews Agreement;

    But in practice, I’m not sure it would fly.

  • lib,

    There are several ‘threadbare asses’ at this late stage of the game. Paisley has problems, but this policing is well beyond anything being offered by the British last summer – he definately has something to sell.

    I wouldn’t say he has nothing to wear. But David Trimble might be entitled to claim that the good Reverend is planning to wear Trimble’s own suit, albeit with a couple of extra, high quality finishes.

    Indeed, Trimble’s own take on it is that Paisley wants to do the deal, but that this is the definative test of his real political courage. That itself is a shift in what he believed only a year or so ago.

    We’ll see what happens, if/when SF calls the DUP by anteing up on policing. Even the faintest whiff of conditionality and they could let him off the March deadline. Though no one now can credibly claim that there is any other destination for anyone in this game, other than the one being dangled before them. And that should be the clincher for both parties.

    As a brief aside, Millar usefully outs two previouly highy publicised factors that are increasingly looking like ‘straw men’: Brown as PM for a better deal for Unionism; or the idea that Plan B contains anything remotely scary for Unionism at large.

  • Rubicon

    Mike – interesting post. I can add a little to it from – noting the phraseology reported by Frank Millar – probably the same source. I’ll characterise him as a long-standing DUP member but not one of the Taliban or the ‘Dirty Dozen’.

    In all discussions with MLAs each will reflect their own view and you need to make up your own mind as to how widely that view is within their own party. With that proviso, the following was stated by this DUP MLA:

    He wanted devolution but didn’t think it possible by March 26th. He didn’t believe the party would stay together on that date (though some would move) and a split wasn’t worth it.
    He thought the SF AF motion was no more than internal SF management and offered nothing in fact. Short of immediate AC action following the passing of the AF motion he felt comfortable that the DUP would stay together. He gave me the distinct impression that he hoped SF wouldn’t move.
    He wouldn’t say how he’d respond to SF movement but his ‘instincts’ told him to move towards the rejectionists – at least until SF made their support for the police clear “on the ground”. He wasn’t clear what this meant – but he referred to the future rather than the past.
    Though he’d no other paid employment he was content with his salary stopping in January. He thought the prospect of devolution late this year could be deliverable – depending on SF delivery.
    He mentioned MMcG as a particular problem saying it’d be much easier for them to move if SF chose another nominee (not G. Kelly). He even suggested Gerry Adams as more acceptable.

    The above is a synopsis – I’m posting it because I think it revealing. It was a discussion and not an interrogation – so I’m sorry it doesn’t answer the questions it begs. It’s worth reflecting on – my own conclusion is that the DUP won’t relax off the delivery issue and can hold together if SF give them that. This DUP MLA was pretty confident that SF would.

  • Rubicon

    PS – If this MLA doesn’t think March 26th possible I think it’ll be another date that’ll slip by. I was impressed by his selflessness but it was clear DUP unity was not yet tested. He hoped it wouldn’t be.

    If he’s right I have to offer my apologies for criticising Francie for his timing. Damn it! But – somebody has to win the lottery 😉

    The problem remains though – the DUP ARE divided on this. They’re staying united courtesy of SF.

  • Crataegus

    Mick & Rubicon

    Thanks very interesting posts.

    The key to this is

    until SF made their support for the police clear “on the ground”

    and what that will actually involve?

    Unionists generally don’t trust SF and memories of decommissioning still play. Unionists (generally) did not, and do not appreciate, the internal difficulties for Republicans regarding surrender and the like. Most Unionists could not begin to comprehend the internal debate in Republican circles regarding the PSNI and recognition of the state. They see it simply as not wanting to support the police and believe many Republicans to have criminal connections and therefore have reason not to progress. On the other hand Unionists want real progress on this issue and most want their own criminals behind bars.

    Decommissioning soured their view of the agreement and reinforced their perception that SF was duplicitous and unreliable. Now we have Policing and there is not one ounce of trust left. They believe that if they ease up SF will avoid the issue and waffle leaving the matter an open wound. If many Unionists feel this way the DUP cannot be anything but be firm on this for if they trust SF and implementation does not happen then they will look like fools. They are going to put SF through the wringer.

  • Trevor Kirkland

    Just read the discusion. The wrangles in the DUP are due less to thinking through what is happening as to opposed a gut reaction to what may happen.
    Too few paid attention to Robunson/Paisley speech in the Assembly when it was sitting on decommissioning. It was mde clear then that decom want the real issue. What they are demanding goes to the very heart of the entire repuiblican agenda. The Green Book of the IRA makes it clear (as espoused by SF) that the goal is the eradication of British rule in Ireland. The symbol of that rule is the police and the courts. To insist that republicans as represented by Sf sign up to ‘the rule of law, policng courts and justice’ is to overturn their entire history, ideology and agenda. This is why they are now sending bullets to each other. For the first time in 30 years the republican movement is now splitting. This may open the door to the SDLP with whom the DUP would do busniess more quickly.
    The moral question inside the DUP is the propriety of sharing power with those whose career was built on violence.