The long defeat to victory

At the climax of the trial scene of the Merchant of Venice (Act 4: scene 1), Shylock is about to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio’s breast which will inevitably result in his death. Then at the moment of his triumph over his hated enemy, Shylock is defeated by Portia and his defeat becomes absolute, presaged by the chilling command from Portia “Tarry, Jew.”

The failure of SF to force the DUP to accept a date for the devolution of Policing and Justice, combined with a lack of progress on other issues important to republicans such as the Maze stadium and the Irish language have been well documented on slugger and elsewhere. Whether or not the forthcoming IMC report is designed to help the DUP agree to P&J devolution, and whether or not the DUP accept it; Gerry Adams has again been talking about the possibility of the executive falling. As Pete Baker has repeatedly pointed out, however, the DUP never agreed to a specific date and seem to be winning on this issue.

Many have suggested that this set of events demonstrates the superior position that the DUP are now in at Stormont and also the failure of Adams and McGuinness to negotiate adequately at St. Andrew’s; failing to get the DUP to agree to definite commitments and dates on issues important to republicans. As a minimum it has been suggested to show that the mutual veto is, on these issues, playing into the hands of the DUP. Adams’s only option now seems to be, as Pete has suggested, to threaten to take the ball away.

However, negotiations and agreements with the other NI parties have never been the final arbiter of events here: at the end of the day (as Stormont discovered in 1972) Westminster is sovereign and short of us declaring UDI the British (and Irish) governments do represent a court of final appeal for the Northern Irish parties. Both London and Dublin have suggested on a number of occasions that they would like to see P&J devolved, an Irish Language Act passed and the Maze site developed. Following the negotiations after SF’s last threat to collapse the executive Peter Robinson and McGuinness appeared willing to resolve their parties’ differences. I noted at the time that someone must have won and someone lost in those negotiations. Now it seems that the situation is as deadlocked as it was two months ago.

If SF did collapse the agreement one of a number of things might happen: the governments might simply decide that the whole concept of devolution for NI is a bad job and return to Direct Rule, whether that Direct Rule would be to the benefit or detriment of one side or the other is difficult to tell. More likely, however, is that a further set of negotiations would be attempted in order to get the Flying Dutchman up and sailing again.

Many have suggested that SF would return to such a negotiating table in a greatly weakened position: they would have long since given away the trump card of IRA decommissioning and the possible threat of violence is less credible than it has been previously. It has been suggested that the governments would be angered by SF’s collapse of the executive as would the NI electorate and serious consideration might be given to a voluntary coalition which would very likely exclude SF. However, the governments probably still fear the resumption of violence and even if they believe that the current SF leadership could not manage to go back to war they might feel that further humiliation of SF could lead to its fragmentation and the emergence of a credible republican terrorist threat rather than the deeply unpleasant but fairly ineffectual one posed by the Real / Continuity IRA. In addition as I have pointed out the governments are fairly supportive of SF’s shopping list, currently opposed by the DUP. As such if SF collapsed the agreement the governments might conceivably see them as the aggrieved party and might be supportive of at least some SF demands being accepted before the executive were recommenced. It is not now as if the DUP can claim that they would not compromise in any new negotiations: they threw that card away (in my view very cheaply) some time ago.

SF may very well merely be sabre rattling. If they are not and do collapse the executive they might well suffer in whatever comes out of such a collapse. However, it is also possible, however, unlikely that they might gain from collapse and further negotiations. That is a possibility that cannot have escaped either SF or the DUP leadership. For the DUP there are possible pitfalls in them continuing to hold out from SF demands.

As a pretty unreconstructed unionist I hope that the DUP give in to none of SF’s demands and that if SF do collapse power sharing that they lose from it. Such may well seem the most likely outcome. However, Antonio’s death and Shylock’s victory seemed the most likely outcome in the Merchant of Venice. To change the analogy: SF may well be beaten on these issues; that is exactly what the Germans and almost everyone else thought about the Russians in high summer 1942 on the road to Stalingrad.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    In summary: It’s all to play for. Turgon wants SF to lose out.

  • Eireannach Saolta

    Interesting analysis Turgon.

    Im in agreement with you on the following 2 points

    Both London and Dublin have suggested on a number of occasions that they would like to see P&J;devolved, an Irish Language Act passed and the Maze site developed

    humiliation of SF could lead to its fragmentation and the emergence of a credible republican terrorist threat rather than the deeply unpleasant but fairly ineffectual one posed by the Real / Continuity IRA.

    I also note you said “As a pretty unreconstructed unionist I hope that the DUP give in to none of SF’s demands ” I never thought you as a Christian were prepared for a restoration of bombing murders etc etc associated with the troubles. Surely that’d be the path things would be heading down if the current ‘stick in the mud’ unionism got its way

  • Dewi
  • Steve

    Turgon

    Stalin / Shakespeare? You do like to mix and match your inspirations

    The big loss for DUP? Would that not be the end of the 11+ and Grammar schools? Surely the english government would impose much the same comprehensive system they have in favour of the prefered DUPer staus quo? After all if it is good enough for the home counties surely it is good enough for the bog trotters. As it stands now there is no status quo for education so the NIO would have to redraft the system and since the system already exists in england they will simply impose it on you. So much for the DUPers retaining 11+ but then it was always going to go with or with out Storomont

    Next the ILA the english government has already signalled their desire to have one put in place and with the return to direct rule it would be a simple matter of proposing and passing the appropriate legislation and if there ever was a return to Storomont there would be no way for the DUPers to retract it as I simply do not see any nationalist party ever returning to storomont with out the veto, atleast till the unionists learn to share the sand box

    A larger voice for the Republic has already been accepted by London, there is no question that Dublin will be consulted about decisions long before Belfast is informed of whats agrred for them

    The next most powerfull level of government will then be shifted to the super councils and it remains to be seen if London will accept the Storomont solution or simply return to their original plans and go back to the 7 council model. SF are already a very strong player in most of the councils and with the new model would appear to only get stronger

    So what will the DUPers get for their intransigence? They will block P&J;being devolved but at the cost of everything else, it will be the very definition of a Pyric victory

  • fair_deal

    Turgon

    As you well know Northern Ireland has had similar powers before (albeit with radically different government structures). In the usual ironic reversals it was the exercise of those powers that nationalists complained about so much (the special powers act still gets the odd mention on slugger) and the potential loss of them the falling out between Faulkner and Heath that contributed to Stormont being prorogued.

    Beyond the political chess games and what prices could or couldn’t be extracted in return for developments, there are potential benefits to devolution.

    Would an UUP Alliance or SDLP P&J;Minister be pressurising the PSNI not to seize guns as the NIO has de facto admitted? Who will keep a better eye on SOCA to ensure it keeps it promises on targeting criminal assets?

    The police are requesting additional laws to tackle anti-social behaviour but Westminster will take a long time to get round to it meantime some live in ongoing misery.

    Although in all this the bigger political games will no doubt be in the fore of minds rather than these more practical issues.

    “I hope that the DUP give in to none of SF’s demands”

    Because of the demands/who is making the demands/or both?

    What does republicanism need to offer up to make DUP movement sensible/acceptable and avoid the pitfalls?

    “For the DUP there are possible pitfalls in them continuing to hold out from SF demands.”

    If the DUP do deal I trust you won’t be saying these “pitfalls” were largely imaginary 😉

  • Driftwood

    Shakespeare- Stalingrad- devolution of P/J to Stormont?
    Ah yes, History and English Literature finally comes in to focus for me.
    Synergy, is that what it’s called? The scales have fallen from my eyes….
    After all these years.

  • skullion

    Driftwood like yourself i am now truly enlightened.Stalingrad = Stormont unbelievable!

  • McKelvey

    “I hope that the DUP give in to none of SF’s demands”

    Because of the demands/who is making the demands/or both?
    Posted by fair_deal on Aug 13, 2008 @ 12:08 AM
    —-
    Excellent question. I hope that we can get an answer.

  • runciter

    serious consideration might be given to a voluntary coalition which would very likely exclude SF

    It is bizarre that you are still clinging to these fantasies.

  • cynic

    This thread is so bizarre that, if I joined in, I should have to become a troll for the share hell of it, so I won’t

  • Turgon – “whether that Direct Rule would be to the benefit or detriment of one side or the other is difficult to tell.”

    I find that hard to believe…. that you find it difficult to tell…

    especially when you go on to say

    “..as I have pointed out the governments are fairly supportive of SF’s shopping list,”

    the logical conclusion being??? come on Turgon!

    Isn’t direct rule your favoured position instead of the current situation?

    Your post covers a lot of avenues of possibility -but what do ‘you’ actually think?

    Runciter – The further Sinn Fein moves from the association with violence and (maybe the dissolving of the IRA AC in the near future) the more i would agree that government without Sinn Fein is indeed a fantasy.

  • George

    “the DUP never agreed to a specific date and seem to be winning on this issue.”

    Maybe on the surface and to its own constituency. But remember that time when SF never agreed to decommissioning and seemed to be winning on that particular issue.

    Then, slowly but surely you ended up having the British, Irish and American governments on one side and SF on the other.

    This time, you already have the British, Irish and American governments on one side and the DUP on the other.

    This is the same slow reel in process as last time. The DUP has already agreed in principle to devolve policing powers.

    So now it’s just a matter of time and the various governments and Sinn Fin can turn the screws when it pleases them.

    All SF has to do is find the perfect time to bring this to a head. SF have all the time in the world to wait on this issue, just like they do on the issue of the Irish language and the Maze.

    The only question I have is when is the best time to stoke it up.

    Waiting until just ahead of next year’s Europeans seems the perfect time for me. So let Stormont stumble on for another 9 months in deadlock and then go for electoral affirmation of the new hardline position from the nationalist population while also making the devolution of policing and justice an issue for the unionist parties, thus possibly splitting their vote.

    The DUP is winning alright.

  • interested

    As a general rule of thumb I usually find that the longer and more tortuous the analogy the less relevance it has.

  • DC

    The problem here Turgon is that these are not abstract battles as you make out but rather democratic demands which need answered on, accountability as to progress will be essential in judging who has helped or hindered. And why?

    The war is over, the reason why unionism cant give in is because it has no forward thinking past the give-in point. No political thought or vision of what it wants for Northern Ireland juxtapose that against bolstering consent and it all looks very grim. Bereft of inspiration will see to it that those with talent go elsewhere. Game over. Not so much Stalingrad but just MAD of NI.

    Sinn Fein have no battles to lose other than proving the DUP to be unable to grasp compulsory coalition. You tend to look at sovereignty in a 20th century way as per your analogies, but for me it is about sharing ideas and using decision making. Sovereignty is not some golden treasure as for example the scene out of pulp fiction where Jules opens the briefcase and this bright gold shines out of it in a sacred way. Sovereignty is less remarkable, not a battle, but decision-making based on demands from ideas. If the DUP says no, I think it is only fair that they give good reasons other than ‘no confidence’.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Turgon,

    I think that is a fair analyis of the situation. In order to do a bit of ‘futuring’ the only thing I would add is that for SF their least worst option is to do the collapse thing and for the DUP it is to do the transfer thing.

    I say this because I think your statements below is probably closest to reality – and this reality both encourages SF to stick to its demand on Police and Justice and the DUP to move on it.

    “As such if SF collapsed the agreement the governments might conceivably see them as the aggrieved party and might be supportive of at least some SF demands being accepted before the executive were recommenced.”

    p.s. If the DUP are about to reject(September announcement) the Maze project – which I suspect they are – this may well be presented at the same time as movement on Police and Justice.

  • frustrated democrat

    The DUP can only win as long as 2 things happen Stormont stays and they don’t let SF get what they want, the unfortunate thing is the two are not compatible in the medium term.

    So the DUP winning, I think not.

    Then there are the TUV and UUP/Conservatives how thing can go wrong, as they say a week is a long time in politics.

  • DC

    And as for this:

    “As Pete Baker has repeatedly pointed out, however, the DUP never agreed to a specific date and seem to be winning on this issue.”

    They may never have agreed inside the St Andrews process, but regardless of that, that argument is redundant as it is about making moves for agreement on policing inside the executive. SF is well entitled to raise the matter under devolution and bring it through there. In fact if anything it is more healthy doing that than prancing around outside of the Assembly using the backdoor of 10 Downing Street.

    Anyway sorry for pseudo-intellect trolling, but it seems to me that in 2008 these things are beginning to look much ado about nothing. Although, if Unionism has learnt anything it should be to deal rather than block because they will likely have SF going back to the electorate with a specific mandate of say, language, culture and policing. In doing so wiping out the SDLP. The DUP is only digging a hole for itself and raising tension over these issues. It will only be forced to address them specifically in another environment less favourable for selling to its own constituents, than say the one available today.

    It is possible to fill the nationalist expectation gap by closing down what is reasonable to SF by negotiating something that is more practical to Unionists, and let the debate of that be put out to the public to think over as to who in the end was more reasonable. To date it has been stand-off over little substance and even less political transparency. Save that of no!

  • [aside]Belmont is the setting where Portia lives and the people there are of a higher class of those from … the Mountpottinger and Short Strand.

  • Greenflag

    Turgon,

    ‘I have pointed out the governments are fairly supportive of SF’s shopping list, currently opposed by the DUP.’

    In negotiation strategy it’s always best to avoid being Russian fronted . The German soldier in WWII France was forced to make one of two unpalateable choices -he either ‘lent ‘ his French girlfriend to his superior officer for the night, or he found himself heading for the Russian front in the morning . No marks for guessing which option the soldier took.

    It seems to me that the DUP seem to excel in the political party version of being Russian fronted . They end up in situations where they are forced into belatedly and under bad grace eventually having to accept the unpalateable . This of course sets the stage for the next round of ‘unpalateable’ choices .

    We now find SF & British Gov & Irish Government in one corner and the DUP alone in the other claiming a ‘win’. A stroke of genius on the part of the DUP master strategist 🙂

    Germany military strategy was always to avoid war with France and Russia at the same time . I can’t recall the Germans ever going out of their way to encourage the Italians or British to join a Franco /Russian alliance against Germany. Not a good strategy for success I would think 🙂

    The Stalingrad analogy is not as bizarre as some have made it out to be with a little modification . We see the DUP not as defeated Germans or victorious Russians but as bottom of the strategy class ‘Romanians . From having cordial relations with the USSR in1939 the Romanians went from being German allies at Stalingrad, to being at war with the Russians ,their former allies the Germans, the Americans , British and Italians simultaneously by 1945. IIRC the Romanians lost 500,000 dead while a succession of leaders grappled with the intricacies of negotiation strategy .

  • Greenflag

    Turgon

    ‘It has been suggested that the governments would be angered by SF’s collapse of the executive as would the NI electorate and serious consideration might be given to a voluntary coalition which would very likely exclude SF. ‘

    Who was it made that suggestion? Whoever the idiot was he/she should be sent to a dark room packed with loose gunpowder and dynamite , given a box of matches, and told that somewhere buried in the loose dust there is a candle which will provide light.

    ‘As a pretty unreconstructed unionist I hope that the DUP give in to none of SF’s demands and that if SF do collapse power sharing that they lose from it.’

    I note the use of the word ‘hope’ in the above . I would add two adjectives to the virtue -slim and forlorn , As a man of faith you might also consider prayer .

    For the rest of us it’s ‘deja vu’ time again. SF will emerge strengthened once again due to the always and ever reliable ‘unionist’ shooting themselves in the foot ‘ syndrome just to prove exactly what ?

  • joeCanuck

    Turgon,

    Don’t forget that “all that gisters is not gold”.

  • Mr E Mann

    >DUP = Romanians…

    Greenflag, after all that has happened you ought to stop underestimating the DUP. Paisley spent years posing as a Pope-heckling buffoon, building his following, skating just this side of sectarian violence, promising he’d never make a deal with the accursed Romanists. Then when his time came he agreed to sit next to Martin McGuinness and ride in as First Minister of NI, the highest office he could aspire to. Paisley is a slick calculator posing as a dunce, much like the current President of the United States. The DUP is too narrow-based to be likely to see his like again, but surely his successors learned something.

  • Greenflag

    Mr E Mann,

    ‘Paisley spent years posing ‘

    What makes you think he ever stopped :)?

    ‘Surely his successors learned something.’

    You might think that but the jury is still out . To judge from what we’re hearing these days from Messrs Storey and Robinson the jury may yet bring in a verdict of nothing learned , nothing remembered ,and not much achieved bar an uncertain peace.

    ‘Paisley is a slick calculator posing as a dunce, much like the current President of the United States.’

    While I would partly agree with your assessment of Mr Paisley – you went too far bringing genius George into the equation . More a case of a dunce masquerading as a ham fisted operator 🙁

    Just look at how the Russians are dealing with Dubya’s ally Georgia right now . And what can the USA do ? When George opens his mouth all the world sees is a toothless Uncle Sam -busted by an unnecessary war , looted by it’s home grown thieves in the financial services sector , with prime mortgages now following the subprime into the abyss ? If this is an example of slick calculating then obviously mathematics education in the States is in an even worse state than I’d thought 🙁

    BTW I’m not underestimating the DUP or indeed SF in either’s ability to bring in the votes.

    But I would’nt overestimate either’s ability to negotiate their way through the present impasse. The multiple party leader visits to London are already ‘p***ing ‘ off Mr Brown .He now wants to kick the NIO offshore . There’s a not too subtle message there not being picked up .

  • Mr E Mann

    Well I’ll say this-Bertie could have poisoned GWB if he’d wanted to 🙂