the mood of uncertainty

With the Secretary of State for Wales, etc, pondering whether to sign the restoration order for the Assembly and the DUP executive due to meet today, in the Irish Times Frank Millar reports the latest soundings on possible transitional arrangements. Adds DUP Executive meeting ends after five-and-a-half hours – “As negotiations with the British government continue, a DUP spokesman described the meeting as “constructive and good”. However, he stopped short of making any statement on the outcome of the meeting.”From the Irish Times

However, while plans are in hand for a first meeting of a new executive on Tuesday – which officials say is necessary to defer controversial water charges – some Whitehall sources conceded yesterday that the process could still “crash” at this point.

And the mood of uncertainty deepened last night with the suggestion that the DUP might think to “turn the tables” on the British and Irish governments at the last gasp by committing to powersharing while effectively setting its own timetable for its commencement. It is believed this tougher option emerged after Mr Blair flatly rejected Mr Robinson’s demand for emergency legislation that might have seen an executive appointed on Monday and then effectively “suspended” or “frozen” for a “transitional period” of two months.

Official sources refused to be drawn on the issue last night, while at the same time questioning the quality of any commitment that might be offered by the DUP to actually form an administration on a specified date in May. In advance of last night’s Downing Street encounter they had also been adamant that Mr Blair would not concede to demands for new legislation, and that any “transitional” arrangements giving a new executive a “breathing space” to bed-down would have to be within the existing legal framework.

The sources said this was because if a transitional period was actually to be presented by the DUP as an additional “testing period” for Sinn Féin, that by definition would be conditional and so no confidence could be placed in any promise that DUP doubters would be willing to see an executive “go live” even in May.

Opposition sources yesterday challenged Number 10’s insistence that, in any event, new legislation was not an option, because the House of Commons is set to rise for the Easter break on Thursday. The Irish Times was told that the government could if necessary abbreviate the recess and have it sit on Friday. However, the underlying political calculation appeared to be simply that Sinn Féin would not participate in the nomination of an executive on Monday which was to be effectively suspended come Tuesday.