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

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  • Ahem

    Well there we have it. The stupidest thing anyone has ever been paid money to write. And here in our own wee praavince too.

  • Steve

    Mick

    That completely ignores the fact that the DUP simply can’t do anything with out the approval of SF in the north and any contact with the republic will drive the paranoia that underpins the DUP into panic mode

  • BonarLaw

    Steve

    you completely ignore the fact that the double veto gives the advantage to the party defending the status quo- the DUP. What cherished DUP project is there that the Shinners can veto? Then ask yourself which cherished Shinner projects the DUP have already vetoed.

    I also think you misjudge who the DUP bogeymen are. Sharing a stage with murdering Provo godfathers demeans the party whereas fronting an announcement with another head of government is always going to be the preferred option.

  • George

    I find it hard to believe these “back channels” don’t already exist.

    For example, I didn’t see any SF people anywhere in the vicinity when the new FF leader and DUP leader announced the IFSC arrangement.

    By the way, it’s “Cowen” people.

  • Dec

    What cherished DUP project is there that the Shinners can veto?

    Football stadiums, monopolies on cultural identity in public places, marching etc. I’ll admit I’ve been dismayed by their recent lack of bite, you’ll note SF have upcoming elections too and I sense the phoney war is drawing to a close.
    Mind you, how times have changed when the DUP now view joint partnerships with the Irish government as a victory over Nationalism. Ulster says ‘Yes, please!’

  • Mick Fealty

    I didn’t say I agreed with it Steve. BL is on the money IMHO. You might refer to it as ‘cutting out the middle man’.

    That said, the Executive can continue to work smoothly with substantial behind the scenes co-operation between SF and the DUP (neither wants that to discontinue). It just makes no sense for either party to continue loving it up in public.

    So long as Peter keeps bringing home freshly cut Dublin bacon, where exactly the problem?

  • Bonar, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that neither gent is currently a head of government. It will all look very different when the BARBie Dolls have to share the OFMDFM and do joint press conferences.

  • What cherished DUP project is there that the Shinners can veto?

    This seems to imply that the DUP are a purely conservative party. IE the status quo is all they want, and they have no ambitions beyond clinging on to the present, which quickly becomes tomorrow’s past!

    The important point is that SF have a veto over whatever the DUP may want to do in the future. The DUP know this, so they have been very cautious about putting forward any new ideas. At the moment they are happier to stagnate than to be vetoed. But that cannot last indefinitely, and everyone knows it. All the DUP have done with their knee-jerk reaction vetoes is to provide a head of steam within nationalism, which will find its escape if (or when) the DUP ever do come forward with a ‘unionist-friendly’ new proposal. The inability of the DUP to keep their powder dry, and to ‘allow’ some nationalist-friendly things, will ensure a negative reaction somewhere down the line.

  • BonarLaw

    Dec

    I think you have just made my point. The DUP can defend the status quo yet SF cannot deliver change. That is the advantage the double veto hands unionism.

    Mick

    in terms of bringing home the bacon, I would suggest the cooperation on display yesterday is of far more use than the staged “cooperation” managed by the NSMC and the N/S bodies.

    Ahem

    he gets paid? For this and its’ like? Dear God!

  • BonarLaw

    Horseman

    “This seems to imply that the DUP are a purely conservative party”

    Indeed it does. The double veto entrenches the status quo and will only allow proposals which are to the benefit of all to be enacted. From the mundane (taxi regulation) to the more headlining (RPA) the assembly will only deliver on a cross community basis proposals which are niether unionist nor nationalist. Therefore my assertion of where I believe the advantage lies.

  • BonarLaw

    Mick

    BTW can we update the clock to BST?

  • Bonar Law

    … the assembly will only deliver on a cross community basis proposals which are niether unionist nor nationalist.

    And we thought the DUP had stolen the UUP’s clothes! It turns out now that they’ve done a complete Northern Bank job on the Alliance Party!

  • George

    BonarLaw,
    The DUP can defend the status quo yet SF cannot deliver change. That is the advantage the double veto hands unionism.

    You are forgetting the elephant in the room – the Irish Republic, which is home to 85% of Irish “nationalists” and is beginning to show how, even from a distance, it has the capability to deliver change north of the border.

    There is no advantage for unionism in being unable to deliver change and the veto is useless in all it ensures is continued stagnation.

  • “will only allow proposals which are to the benefit of all to be enacted.”

    A very optimistic view, BP.

    What’s to stop horsetrading between the DUP and SF with other parties being kept outside the tent?

    Also, SF can continue to do side deals with the two governments on matters that have not (yet) been devolved and such as policing and justice.

  • Steve

    Mick

    The only point to a Biffo Bunker and a Peter retreater is to make back channel political deals between the DUP and FF

    Put it simply neither of them actually has the power to accomplish this.

    FF is in a coalition and a somewhat slippery coalition at that

    Peter can’t so much as fart in his office with out begging Marty’s forgiveness.

    So this is all just so many photo ops, but do you really believe the uneducated and bigoted base of the DUP(or atleast that part that hasn’t jumped to the TUV) will see any contact with the republic as anything but a sell out of unionism

  • George, presumably the NSMC has the ability to bring about some changes, north and south.

    Will there be a harmonisation of, say, fair employment laws?

  • “Peter can’t so much as fart in his office with out begging Marty’s forgiveness.”

    Now don’t go putting such juvenile ideas into Robinson’s head, Steve 😉

  • pith

    What a load of baloney. He goes from referring to a rumour about an idea of his own to treating the idea as reality. Has anyone heard this rumour except himself?

  • Dec

    The DUP can defend the status quo yet SF cannot deliver change.

    BL

    And what status quo is that? Is it the 1985 version of ‘No, No, No’ or the 2008 version of ‘Brian and I…’?

  • George

    Nevin,
    harmonising our “fair employment” laws with NI’s -I don’t like the sound of that.

    Does it involve banning mugs and such like?

    As for the NSMC, nobody in the Republic gives a hoot about that. Most don’t even know what it is -a talking shop for those with as yet unspecified sensibilities.

    Much better for the Republic to cut out that middle man too and talk straight to politicians who are amenable, business people who have ideas and other interest groups such as GPs in border areas about what needs to be done and what can be done.

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    Steve,

    If you really think that, then I suggest you spend some time with Biffo’s partners in government. It’s not the impression I get. As for your other remark, if you can’t debate in an adult fashion, then please take it elsewhere!

    BL,

    Indeed. And I have re-set the clock. At last.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Steve

    “The only point to a Biffo Bunker and a Peter retreater is to make back channel political deals between the DUP and FF. Put it simply neither of them actually has the power to accomplish this.”

    Well the Biffo Bunker is already there. (Not sure if work has been completed yet but the foundations were already dug and support walls started when I took a spin down to Notting Hill for a gander, and that’s probably more than a year ago now.)

    The Peter Retreat is a another story – but I can’t see the Greens (in Dublin) or SF (in Belfast) opposing it if FF and the DUP agreed to do it. Once established, I can’t seen any future government in Dáil Éireann closing it down

    “Peter can’t so much as fart in his office with out begging Marty’s forgiveness.”

    How could Marty oppose a unionist party going to Dáil Éireann? SF voters would rightly ask: isn’t this supposed to be something we want?

    This is the tricky position that the emerging FF-DUP relationship puts SF in – it actually furthers the goals of people SF represent (as in, real republican goals, not those of the so-called “republican movement). But it does so in a way that exposes the weakness of SF.

    Others are delivering that which SF have long talked about. They can’t now complain, even as their weakness and ineffectuality is exposed.

    “So this is all just so many photo ops, but do you really believe the uneducated and bigoted base of the DUP(or atleast that part that hasn’t jumped to the TUV) will see any contact with the republic as anything but a sell out of unionism.”

    In the long run they don’t matter. Short term, the illiterate or emotionally-maladjusted bigots on the extremes of unionism can create a certain amount of heat, but they can’t hold back the tide of global economics, or the reality of mature political institutions in Dublin building natural relationships with the emerging political institutions in Belfast.

    There are simply far greater forces at play here. It’s like the flashiest tennis player at the local club going up against Federer. He might win a few points early on, maybe even a game or two, but the more the game wears on, the more his limitations will be exposed. Federer will win the first set 6-2 or 6-1, then the second and third sets to love. By the third set, our hotshot club pro mightn’t win a single point, or even return a serve.

    Chances are he’ll just go home long before it’s necessary for the umpire to declare it game, set and match.

  • Steve

    Billy
    How could Marty oppose a unionist party going to Dáil Éireann? SF voters would rightly ask: isn’t this supposed to be something we want?

    This is the tricky position that the emerging FF-DUP relationship puts SF in – it actually furthers the goals of people SF represent (as in, real republican goals, not those of the so-called “republican movement). But it does so in a way that exposes the weakness of SF.

    Do you really think that the DUP are going to deliver on the SF agenda? Is peter suddenly going to start talking re-unification and cross border ties? it isn’t just a matter of engagement with the government of the Republic but how and why there is engagement and once you strip out the sectartarian crap that seperates the DUP and SF they have fundamentally different approaches to almost everything

    The DUP still has no ability to unilaterally negotiate anything with anybody on behalf of nIreland so therefor no ability to expose anybodies inherant weakness but their own.

    “So this is all just so many photo ops, but do you really believe the uneducated and bigoted base of the DUP(or atleast that part that hasn’t jumped to the TUV) will see any contact with the republic as anything but a sell out of unionism.”

    In the long run they don’t matter. Short term, the illiterate or emotionally-maladjusted bigots on the extremes of unionism can create a certain amount of heat, but they can’t hold back the tide of global economics, or the reality of mature political institutions in Dublin building natural relationships with the emerging political institutions in Belfast

    They have for 80 years why do you suddenly proscribe their ability to drive unionism where they want?

    Peter can’t so much as fart in his office with out begging Marty’s forgiveness.
    As for your other remark, if you can’t debate in an adult fashion, then please take it elsewhere!

    Mick are you a little touchy when someone points out the impotent nature of DUP power

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Steve

    “Do you really think that the DUP are going to deliver on the SF agenda?”

    No, the DUP is going to try and deliver that which its supporters want – particularly the new, middle class, business-oriented, “respectable” unionist voters that they have picked up in the last decade. After all, these are the voters who have transformed the DUP from a personality cult/hardline ginger group into the mainstream voice of unionism. And it so happens that their interests are coalescing with those of the southern establishment, at the centre of which is FF.

    The irony is that circumstances are delivering things (such as an all-island economy) which SF have always claimed to want, but they are happening in a way that SF can neither capitalise on nor oppose.

    “Is peter suddenly going to start talking re-unification and cross border ties?”

    I expect to hear neither Biffo nor Punt talking about any such thing. I expect them to talk business, particularly economic development. The more the all-island economy develops, the richer we’re going to get. In terms of unionist dogma, it’s a tricky dilemma, but the truth is we all want to get on, make progress and ensure the best possible future for our children.

    “it isn’t just a matter of engagement with the government of the Republic but how and why there is engagement and once you strip out the sectartarian crap that seperates the DUP and SF they have fundamentally different approaches to almost everything.”

    But the DUP and FF don’t have “funamentally different approaches to almost everything”. Indeed I have heard senior DUPers comment that they have an awful lot in common with FF. This is my point – where the DUP and FF agree, it’s very difficult for SF to oppose. FF are, after all, the largest republican party in Ireland.

    “The DUP still has no ability to unilaterally negotiate anything with anybody on behalf of nIreland so therefor no ability to expose anybodies inherant weakness but their own.”

    This is where FF come in. They can provide the DUP with the republican credibility to ensure that SF are sidelined. After all, wouldn’t it be ridiculous (and wouldn’t it play badly in the SF heartlands) for SF – in reality, the representatives of northern nationalism – to try and scupper a relationship between the representatives of unionism and the Irish state?

    “They have for 80 years why do you suddenly proscribe their ability to drive unionism where they want?”

    The DUP is on board. Where is there left for these headbangers to go? TUV? Please.

    The Paisleyites are on board. It’s game, set and match for sanity, at long last.

  • Ahem

    Ah, the “illiterate or emotionally-maladjusted bigots” – or to put that another way: the people Billy disagrees with. You’re a lovely fella Billy.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Thanks Ahem!

  • Steve

    Billy
    the problem for the DUP is precisely that they are the voice for mainstream unionism as it leaves them in a position to shed support both to the left and the right.

    They started out to the right pushed the UUP off the mainstream and attracted their supporters while retaining the right as there was no effective alternative. The TUV, while in my opinion no alternative, do give a place for the sectarian bigots to go to vote so what do the DUP do? try and move right to retain or regain there support and therefor shed the support the recieved from disafected UUPers or try and move further left and displace the UUP entirely? Seems to me with unionism penchant for schism the DUP have no where to go but down. It is just matter of how far and how fast

  • Mick Fealty

    Steve,

    It’s your indelicate use of language I was referring to. There’s room enough for all manner of politics here.

  • “The DUP still has no ability to unilaterally negotiate anything with anybody on behalf of nIreland”

    Isn’t that what the two finance ministers have just done, Steve? It looks as if the NSMC was, er, sidelined. I could be wrong …

  • Steve

    Mick

    I chose that phrase precisely because it was indelicate. I could have said “he can’t even sign a letter without Martin McGuiness’s permision” but that would lack the punch and not fully convey, in my opinion, the lack of individual power that Peter is inheriting.

    Nevin, what have they negotiated?

  • BonarLaw

    Dec

    if you are content with where we are with then the double veto need not cause any sleepless nights.

    Nevin

    “George, presumably the NSMC has the ability to bring about some changes, north and south.”

    You presume incorrectly.

  • Damian O’Loan

    This debate is perhaps being held outside what strikes me as the prevailing feature of the forthcoming bilateral relationship.

    That is that the constitutional question is now relegated to second place behind the dollar. Growth will follow as the measure of success, as opposed to demography and the (London)Derry question. This means that nationalists and unionists, and probably eventually loyalists and republicans, will have essentially more in common than apart. One might say they have done for years. Now this can be openly acknowledged.

    The gesture of the announcement on financial services jobs moving North, and its timing, is of interest in this regard. Quotes can easily be found from all parties here calling for more ‘high value’ jobs, more inward investment. And while these may be justified in many cases, questions should be asked about the relationship of the new North as a US client state, and whether more, and more open, negotiation could achieve a more benefecial relationship North and South.

    To me, the anger at the chuckles is being contained by the promise of a pay off effectively. This would seem to be only as guaranteed as the credit packages whose contents are requested within one hundred days by the IMF – after the respective takeovers in any case. Should this announcement, if it happens, be the cue for efforts toward a more favourable balance?

    Certainly their Budget speeches are the most significant things they have in common. But foreign financial development too is of foremost importance when money is cast as the cornerstone of a fragile peace.

  • You’ve read the Common Chapter in Ireland 2000-2006, BL? It was put together after the 1998 Agreement.

    “The objective will be the generation of a co-ordinated transport and logistics plan for the island in the context of East-West linkages to Britain and Europe, including strategic cross-border roads and Trans European Networks (TENS) routes. To that end, under the direction of the NSMC, the authorities in both jurisdictions will be working together to identify and promote joint projects within this important area.”

  • Dec

    BL

    No sleepless nights here. I’m pretty content with where we (and Scotland) are going.

  • kensei

    Just a small point of order. The only difference between the FM and DFM is the D in the title of the latter. The assumption is that the DUP will get to claim every joint announcement with Dublin. As much as I’m sure FF and the DUP would like that, the dynamics of the currents setup suggest that will not be the case.

  • Dk

    Dec: “No sleepless nights here. I’m pretty content with where we (and Scotland) are going.”

    Independence from the larger political entity on the same Island?