As Gerry Moriarty notes, despite the DUP’s offer of power sharing within the next 6-8 weeks, no guarantees have been given. The DUP have counted Peter Hain saying 56 times that it would be either devolution today or dissolution today. But a bit of egg on the face now may count for little compared to a bigger prize later, if/when (though Blair, it seems, has added a little frisson to this particular pot) it comes to jostling for position in Gordon Brown’s cabinet.
If you say that something will happen 56 times – presuming the DUP counted correctly – and it doesn’t, then you would expect Hain to be red-faced, if not to actually resign. But here you must bear in mind a cardinal rule of Northern Ireland politics: in Britain, where Hain and his Northern Ireland Office ministers get their votes, people blame the Irish “natives”, and no one else, when things go wrong, while preserving some kudos for direct-rule ministers if actual progress is made.
And consider if May happened. Not only would the IRA have ended its campaign and disarmed, and Sinn Féin endorsed the PSNI, but the final prize, a Stormont government, would also be achieved under Hain’s watch and without a sense of imposition. Gordon Brown and Hain are understood not to be buddy-buddy, but with such a record how could the future British prime minister keep him out of cabinet? In such circumstances Hain would tolerate some personal embarrassment in the days ahead.
On the other hand, Gerry Adams has his own decisions to make:
If there is direct engagement today with Paisley, then he must decide whether Plan B suits his and Sinn Féin’s ambitions or whether May is worth waiting for.
May would seem the logical choice because if the DUP welshes on the deal he will still have Plan B. Furthermore, prospective powersharing is probably better for his Southern election chances, not to mention the importance of keeping the Sinn Féin Northern troops employed in Assembly politics.
Here also, it’s probably best to consider another potential complication: when Sinn Féin makes concessions, it demands concessions from one or both governments in exchange. As SDLP leader Mark Durkan warned yesterday, this could create a “twilight zone where no doubt Sinn Féin will look for more concessions in return for the legislation and the DUP will use those concessions as a further excuse for avoiding sharing power”.
That said, and for all this is an extension to the deadline rather than a promise to actually deal within that timeframe, there is little indication that Sinn Fein is preparing to ditch negotiations now… Remember, this is negotiation up to, through and even past a deal.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty