More on the DUP’s 2004 ‘lost weekend’?

The Irish Times is still rummaging in areas of Jonathan Powell’s book that the Guardian forgot. It has some interesting detail, not least the suggestion by Robinson that the DUP had virtually thrown Paisley out as leader due to the increase in internal pressures in advance of the deal. But there’s more. For instance, Powell suggests that after McGuinness asks Powell to ‘stand down’ during the 2004 negotiations that failed over photographing of IRA decommissioning, he goes on to tell him that they are sorting all the further details out direct with the DUP and they don’t need his services. On one occasion SF were late for a meeting in Belfast because they’d be meeting the back channel. Indeed the references to it in the book are both frequent and matter of fact. Which might lead one to conclude that: either the DUP is suffering a collective memory loss; or Mr Powell is intent on inflicting some retrospective pain on a party still seemingly determined to hold the line on the devolution of policing and justice. Or both?By Frank Millar

THE DEPUTY leader of the DUP, Peter Robinson, once told the British government that the proposed timetable for the powersharing deal with Sinn Féin was causing such “turmoil” in his party that it “had virtually thrown out Paisley as leader”.

According to Tony Blair’s former chief-of-staff, Jonathan Powell, this moment of high tension came during the St Andrews negotiations in October 2006.

In his book Great Hatred, Little Room, Powell notes that this was something he and Mr Blair “took with a pinch of salt”.

However, reliable British sources have told The Irish Times that the episode confirmed “the singular act of courage” required of the Rev Ian Paisley when he finally agreed to enter into government with Sinn Féin – and Mr Robinson’s crucial role in supporting him while ensuring maximum DUP unity ahead of the historic deal finally concluded in March 2007.

Mr Robinson – who is expected to succeed Dr Paisley as DUP leader in late May or early June – correctly divined the rebellious mood in the DUP on the first day of talks at St Andrews.
virtuually ‘through
Mr Powell records that at one stage he received a note saying Dr Paisley wanted to see Mr Blair alone: “But it was clearly a misunderstanding because the whole DUP delegation came down and made a terrible fuss; they clearly thought we were trying to split Paisley off from his party and that became a running theme throughout the negotiation.”

When Mr Blair did eventually see Dr Paisley alone, he found the DUP leader in “benign” mood: “He sensed that his community was ready to move and if republicans could do what was needed on policing, his instinct was to come to a deal quickly before things unravelled, and then hold an election in January.”

However, senior DUP sources have separately confirmed Mr Powell’s note that the prospect of an election in January 2007 triggered serious opposition to the DUP leader among those, led by MP Nigel Dodds, arguing for a longer timescale in which to “test” republican commitments.

Mr Powell writes: “He [Paisley] said the only thing that was necessary was for Sinn Féin to hold an ardfheis on policing before the executive was set up – the one thing Adams and McGuinness had now made clear we could not deliver. But when Paisley went back to his party there was serious opposition, particularly from Dodds, to such a short timescale. Robinson told us the DUP were in turmoil and had virtually thrown out Paisley as leader – something we took with a pinch of salt.”

Tensions and divisions within the DUP also appear to have frustrated Sinn Féin’s efforts over the longer term to establish whether Dr Paisley would eventually agree to share power.

Martin McGuinness appeared so confident of his party’s secret “back channel” to the DUP at one point that he thought to stand-down Mr Powell during a key negotiation in 2004.

According to Mr Powell this happened in the autumn of that year following the Leeds Castle talks and before a hoped-for deal fell apart on the issue of a photographic record of IRA decommissioning. However, informed sources have told The Irish Times that republican efforts to satisfy themselves about Dr Paisley’s disposition were complicated by the fact that Sinn Féin was talking to people in the DUP who started off taking a “softer” position than Dr Paisley but ended-up taking a more hardline attitude than their leader.

© 2008 The Irish Times

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  • Why, on a second reading, does this not surprise me?

    I read two essential points emerging:

    1. The DUP has never been and still is not monolithic. Of course, there have been different (and changing) interpretations, agendas and — yes — shopping lists. All the names in the frame are, surely, in the story. No, the DUP was/were/is/are not telling Downing Street everything. That will not change as long as negotiations continue.

    2. Of course there were a whole series of “back-channels”. Else the DUP would have been dependent on what Downing Street were feeding them. I find the DUP and its rhetoric appalling. However, I do not doubt that there is some “intelligence” (in any sense) there.

    All factions in the know in the DUP (and Frank Millar seems to identify at least three) would be aware that London, Dublin and the egregious Reiss had different hymn-sheets.

    If individuals in the DUP and SF didn’t pass in the queue for the water-fountain, exchange a nod-and-wink, and an odd mutter, that would be amazing — and a dereliction of duty.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Report from Irish Fictional Political News.

    Rumours that memebers of Sinn Fein having been using a DUP ‘back channel’ have been circulating for some time. The rumours first started after alleged photographic material was published showing a DUP assembly member for Newry with an unnamed man with ‘dark fenian looks’ in an hotel bedroom. When the DUP were asked if they would ever be in the business of getting into bed with Republicans a spokesman issued the terse denial ‘Never, Never, Never’.

    The rumours however persisted and were added to during the negotiations for STA where it is believed that the secret DUP back channel was again made available to members of Sinn Fein in the early hours of the morning after intense negotiations failed to break the talks deadlock.
    It would seem that the choice of the Fairmont St Andrews hotel for the STA negotiations which boasts “King-sized beds, thick, soft duvet covers and a feeling of total exhilaration as you relax within the comfort of your guest room” was nothing short of another political master stroke by the wily Tony Blair which encouraged the political marriage of the 2 great rival groups to be consummated.

    A well known British politican who wished to remain unnamed who was not direclty connected to the talks but is closley associated with Tony Blair and now holding office in Europe claimed the use of the ‘back channel’ was a reality
    in British political life and that he himself had considerable knowledge of it but admitted that the British public may well be uncomfortable about the details of its use.

    As this story develops the mystery as to what underlies the dramatic improvement in the relations between SF and the DUP and particularly the genuine warmth between First and Deputy ministers must at least be partly explained by the extraordinary events that unfolded behind closed doors in the Fairmont. One must wonder if during those light hearted, chuckly moments, between the these two now special friends there minds do not wander back to that night in the Scottish hotel.

    Of course despite the apparent success of this liason between SF and the DUP there are those who
    appear unhappy with the arrangments and as one middleaged man in Ballymena rather
    inappropriately remarked that “as the f****** having being screwing the people of Non Iron for years I’m not suprised to hear they have been screwing each other”.

    Ends.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    I suppose we became accustomed to the misleading and erroneous rubbish propagated by the DUP and their leadership when they weren’t in power.

    Seems it became ingrained and now continues when they are in power……why can’t they just admit they lied about their contacts with SF and get on with it?

  • Truth & Justice

    Some people will say and do anything to sell a book

  • Frustrated Democrat

    T&J;Even sometimes the truth….maybe you just can’t see it.