Blair, Brown and Roy Mason

Sinn Fein’s discomfort and anger about the DUP allegedly breaking promises made at St. Andrews has been detailed repeatedly. No one has been more careful in documenting this than Slugger’s own Pete Baker. It has been suggested that SF took their eye off the ball during St. Andrews and that the DUP out negotiated and indeed out manoeuvred them. That may be correct but I would suggest that the critical error which SF made was to forget that Blair was leaving or at least to think that Gordon Brown would have as much interest in, and a similar position on, the political process in Northern Ireland.I remember many years ago when I was a young, foolish member of the UUP (I am now merely foolish) suggesting that a Labour victory would not be the disaster for unionism which many feared; I suggested that Blair represented a very significant shift from the policies expounded by the likes of Kevin McNamara. I also used to point out that it was Roy Mason who brought the SAS to Northern Ireland and as our deputy first minister is supposed to have said “Beat the s**t out of us.” The us there seeming to be the organisation he was only very briefly a member of.

Blair’s approach was of course very different to both McNamara and Mason’s. However, although he probably wanted to be seen as even handed, he ended up being lauded by SF and viewed with at best suspicion by unionists. One can discuss at length whether or not SF were accurate in their assessment of him (certainly some rejectionist republicans probably think that Blair tricked SF into compromise); such analyses are not the purpose of this blog other than to observe that SF regarded Blair as useful to them and their “Naïve Idiot.”

As such they probably (incorrectly as it may be turning out) assumed that Brown would behave similarly and push Robinson to compromise the same way as Blair did Trimble and indeed Paisley. It is not only disgruntled former members of the UUP who will remember Trimble’s “No guns no government” and his “Mr Adams, it is over to you. We have jumped, you follow” followed by the humiliating compromises usually forced upon him by Blair. Since Brown had never expressed any significant contrary opinions on Northern Ireland and since the established order seemed to be that unionists drew lines in the sand only to have the British government push them over them; SF must have assumed that whatever else had changed with the Brown accession, normal service in Northern Ireland would continue.

I would submit that SF assumed that Brown would, after a suitable hiatus, help force Robinson and the DUP into agreeing that there was public support for devolution of policing and justice and that “a political life time” would be even shorter than a life sentence is here provided one has only murdered people in a bar or a fish shop.

Of course DUP supporters will probably submit that in Robinson and the DUP, SF and Brown are dealing with a very different man and party to Trimble and the UUP. There is no doubt some truth in that but one only need study this document and their comments prior to entering government to see that the DUP can also perform political volte faces.

No: the central difference is that for whatever reason, possibly including the parliamentary arithmetic but mainly I suggest due to a different outlook and priorities, Brown is not inclined to drag the DUP into accepting the devolution of P&J, the building of the shrine or the provision of an ILA; at least not yet. Brown’s refusal thus far to do any of this has allowed the DUP to proclaim a series of victories and has resulted in SF’s current rather impotent anger and complaining that the DUP are going back on agreements. SF’s discomfiture is only shown in starker relief by their inability to produce any sanctions against the DUP apart from stalling the whole system of government here which itself damages themselves as much as anyone else. However, I would suggest that should he feel the need to force the DUP to accept these issues, Brown will try and very likely succeed. Exactly why Brown might do this is unclear but anyone can construct a series of possible reasons. The DUP might then be able to resist but just as Paisley eventually bowed the knee nearly two years ago, I have little confidence in Robinson’s ability to stick to Never, Never, Never, never. Unionists are left hoping that Mr. Brown in terms of his position on Northern Ireland is more a Roy Mason than a Tony Blair.

The DUP having surrendered in the past could end up with their position on policing and justice being a Dien Bien Phu or since I have not quoted Shakespeare recently unionists could end up like Troilus with the fall of Troy certain, impotently vowing revenge on his enemies “Strike a free march to Troy! With comfort go: Hope of revenge shall hide our inward foe.” (The Tragedy of Troilus and Cressida Act 5, Scene x).