Now is the winter of our discontent

So how to analyse today? A very difficult question: I have no doubt many will have their own answer. I also have no doubt that my analysis will change over the next number of days. Still let us look at today.

From the perspective of an anti agreement unionist (who does actually want “fenians about the place” contrary to some people’s view of me); is it “Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York” Richard III Act 1: scene 1 or alternatively are we collectively Brutus and Cassius who having slain Caesar created their own undoing?

For Dewi: Short term change, long term plus ca change, plus c’est la meme choseFirstly the what, why and when of Paisley’s fall:

Before that even has Paisley been forced out? A stupid question the answer to which is: yes? Maybe but he is an old man. He has achieved his ambitions and has resigned himself. Not for him the humiliation of Thatcher nor indeed the same as the episode when he left the moderatorship of the Free Presbyterian Church. Yes of course the siren voices were calling but would Robinson have had the nerve to challenge him? Would anyone have done the same to Paisley as was done to Jim Molyneaux all those years ago by a stalking horse? Maybe but I would have been surprised and had there been a stalking horse, everyone would have seen the hand of Robinson and like Heseltine with Thatcher slaying the great dragon might have ended Robinson’s leadership ambitions at the same time.

Clearly Paisley has had a problem with some unionists since the agreement. Some indeed do not want a fenian about the place, some oppose devolution, some oppose power sharing, others feel that he and his party negotiated poorly. That latter group is probably the most significant both in political importance and in numbers but each group leeched away some support.

Then there are the assorted Paisley junior and Sweeney typed episodes. Whilst each one was not fatal they contributed to a general feeling that this party of principle lead by a man of religious principle was pandering to a son who whilst having done nothing wrong had behaved in a way which some Christians and others might have found unbecoming to people of faith and morals. The reappointment of Paisley junior to the policing board looked foolish unless Paisley had already decided to go and on balance I think he had before that appointment.

Most significantly of course has been the Chuckle Coalition. It is not what they have actually done but the mood music which has been the problem here. Paisley was, I am sure, determined to avoid the way Trimble always looked as if he was pained and had been beaten in negotiations. Paisley clearly decided on the victorious smile and even some magnanimity to those he saw as vanquished (SF). However, that was a fatal flaw: much too long the memories of that man (McGuinness) and his past; much too long the dark nights for unionists in the likes of South Fermanagh to recall what McGuinness’s friends had done, much too recent the pain and much too significant for many unionists throughout Northern Ireland.

Dromore was not in my view the cause; it was one, and only one of the signs. Signs many in the DUP had maybe not ignored but minimised. That and the very foolish way in which the DUP conducted themselves over that election making mistake after mistake. Ironically the mistakes were apparently ordered by Robinson, yet it seems to be his leader who has paid the price. Surely too Machiavellian to suggest that he knew his strategy was flawed? In my view yes; but an interesting thought.

So the writing was on the wall, Paisley’s conduct since devolution has by his party and many in the unionist electorate, to quote Daniel 5:25: And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN (you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting).

What will happen now? How many trees will be sacrificed, how many keyboards battered on that subject?

My initial thoughts are that in the short term we will indeed see a much less friendly atmosphere on the hill. It has already started since Dromore and the rows over policing and justice are clearly not helping. Policing and Justice will in my view not be devolved for a while now. In the short term then I suspect the situation will be highly frosty. Robinson will not allow much smiling or chuckling.

However, Robinson is a pragmatist (more so than Paisley). He supported devolution and power sharing years ago albeit in a different form. As such I suspect we will have less overt happiness but no less practical power sharing. What remains to be seen is whether or not Robinson can increase the tent which is the DUP now that the bogeyman of Paisley has gone in which case the DUP position will have been strengthened. Alternatively there may be some in the DUP and the electorate at large who were loyal to Paisley and could not believe him capable of a sell out, and as such denied that St Andrews could have been a sell out. They may denounce things like devolution of policing and justice as the sell out that Paisley would never have endorsed and jump ship to the TUV. The relative extent of these two competing factors will likely have some sway on the medium term future. Equally whilst in the short term Jim Allister’s fox has committed suicide in the medium term he may have found a slower and less artful one to chase. At this point no one can tell.

Of course the behaviour of the republican movement will also be important. If they cause lots of trouble then maybe devolution could unravel, if they do not it probably will continue. If the IRA murders anyone I do suspect it would be the end of devolution unless SF produced massive immediate cooperation with the police.

So there are some initial thoughts, I may well change them all soon but I think there is merit to saying what one initially thinks provided one has the honesty to change later. In a sentence then: For a while I suspect there will be a bit of mild chaos, however, looking a few months down the line I suspect that throwing the captain off the Flying Dutchman will have little impact on its direction; we have merely moved the sails around a bit. Or using another nautical metaphor we are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and the band has a few numbers to play before “Nearer my God to Thee.”

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