Cold comfort in the Biffo Bunker – DUP needs a big freeze

John Coulter was one of the first commenters out of the blocks in commenting on the new power relationship on the island, that between Taoiseach elect, Brian Cowan and First Minster elect, Peter Robinson. John argues that distance will be critical not so much to the relationship, but to Robinson maintaining confidence at the DUP base. By John Coulter

Turn up the heating in Biffo’s Belfast Bunker – because Unionists seem hell bent on a frosty deal with Republicans in the post Paisley era.
Within a month, Brian Cowan will take over the Taioseach’s throne from Bertie Ahern, and Peter Robinson – after almost three decades as DUP deputy – will become First Minister and party boss.
To save the DUP from an UUP-style poll collapse, the ex-Paisley camp will have to unveil – publicly at least – a Big Freeze with the Shinners.
If Robinson does not want to see more Dromore debacles – where the DUP lost a supposedly safe council seat – happening all over the North, he needs to plug the leak of voters back to the UUP or defecting to the dissident Traditional Unionist Voice.
The trick will be simple – kill off the current Paisley/McGuinness “chuckle brothers” image, while securing the peace process by stepping up the back door channels.
With Cowan in the hot seat, the Malone complex becomes the Biffo bunker.
Given the millions of taxpayers’ cash spent on it, there should be plenty of room for late-night negotiating, away from suspicious eyes on Stormont Hill.
The Biffo bunker will be almost as important as the Dail itself in developing unionist-nationalist relations in the post Paisley/Ahern era.
Rumour also has it my idea of a unionist embassy in the Dail could be on the Robinson-led DUP’s agenda to boost cross Border co-operation.
A “Robinson retreat” in Leinster House would be a welcome twin to the Biffo bunker and would allow unionists to chat with their southern counterparts in peace, oblivious to the chants of ‘treason and plot’.
Expect DUP spin doctors to sell the idea among the party’s disturbingly unhappy grassroots that “Chuckle brothers unionism” is dead and buried.
With four major elections on the cards between next year and 2011, the DUP will want its party faithful to adopt the same disciplined approach which secured ‘top dog’ spots in polls between 2003 and 2007.
That will also require a poll pact with Reg Empey’s UUP if the electoral threat from Jim Allister’s TUV is to be crushed.
Despite Big Ian’s trips south as First Minister, the DUP has tended to chuck bucketloads of cold water on the notion of a unionist base in the Dail.
My idea found more support among Ulster Unionists during the David Trimble era when Protestants were anxious not to repeat the same tactical mistakes as 1985 and the disastrous Ulster Says No campaign.
Worked properly, the Biffo bunker will give southern nationalists an even bigger role in the running of the North.
The Biffo bunker will be the perfect springboard for Cowan’s Fianna Fail to really organise in the North and politically cut the Shinners’ throat.
Likewise, the Robinson retreat will give unionists their first effective voice in the running of the 26 Counties since Union Flag fluttered unchallenged over Dublin Castle.
And if the Fianna Fail/DUP coalition used cross border bodies sensibly, Robinson and company could outgun the Shinners at Stormont, and the anti-power sharing Protestant grassroots in unionist heartlands.
But time is not on the side of joint operations at the Biffo bunker and Robinson retreat.
Both need to be in play before the lambeg drums hammer out the loyalist marching tunes in July

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

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