No olive branch for Sinn Fein today from the First Minister

Well, no hints of a breakthrough in the Executive deadlock that I could pick up in the main speeches at the DUP conference this morning, despite the reported hopes of progress under the surface. Perhaps it was too much to expect for such an occasion. Still, overall Peter Robinson rationed his quota of partisan applause lines in his first leader’s speech to his party conference, at least by the traditional Paisley standards of the day before yesterday. But he had nothing new to offer from the DUP on ending the paralysis.

“I want to see policing and justice devolved to NI… We will deliver on our manifesto commitments .. But we will not support the devolution of policing until the community has confidence in the structures and in those who operate them.”

Frustrating though that he neglected to reformulate what “community confidence.. in those who operate them ” entails and what precisely Sinn Fein and the IRA have to do to win it , presumably because he wants to leave the details to the private talks or is playing a very risky game of calling Sinn Fein’s bluff.
It’s just occurred to me.. Did the milder than usual savaging of the UUs hold out hopes of a deal over the European contest at Jim Allister’s expense and then contribute to an easing of the deadlock?

“ There will be no Justice Minister who does not command the support of the wider community.”

But surely that’s why Alliance holding the post was a runner although the terms aren’t agreed? At least he avoided the obvious point he might have made in a party speech that tomorrow’s SF event will do nothing to increase that “confidence.”

Adopting a statesmanlike tone appropriate for a First Minster, he hoped to offer a short term package of measures to alleviate the impact of the financial crisis in a few weeks’ time.

By that yardstick devolution will be judged…. We will work for the prosperity of all the people not just because it is right but because it’s good politics”

Mr Robinson still managed some crowd pleasing jeer lines at Sinn Fein’s expense ( did I detect a suppressed yawn from Nigel?) , repeatedly contrasting the DUP’s alleged resolve in the St Andrew’s negotiations with the Ulster Unionists’ retreats in the face of Sinn Fein’s “threats”

“Who’s in retreat now, who is threatening to withdraw? It’s now Sinn Fein who are behaving like spoiled children. Now the splits are within Sinn Fein. The old guard has raised his bearded head. Now it’s a case of Gerry against the pacemakers.”

He went on to complain that the media had paid “insufficient attention” to the DUP’s unfinished business, singling out the BBC’s Noel Thompson. (Good interview I thought, Robinson was pressed hard and came out of it OK. Although he bristled a bit, I wouldn’t think he’s seriously aggrieved. Certainly he’s no reason to be). His list was fascinating.

Reforming the public sector (very difficult but non-partisan).
“Resolving the parades issue,” (Nigel Dodds called again for the abolition of the Parades Commission and called permission for the SF protest “ disgraceful”).
And at the top, “Reforming the system of government away from the mandatory coalition.
I

If the DUP are actually bracketing P&J with the parades issue that (quote), “ allows the Orangemen to walk down the Garvaghy Road” ( loud cheers) and change the governance system, it’s very hard to see how political progress can be made. Before we get near reform of the system of governance, can we imagine a set of changes to parades regulation that SF and even the SDLP might buy in any deal over J&P? No doubt Noel Thompson and all others won’t miss the point.

A final point about Chris’s suggestion that the DUP is receiving too much attention as a result of pressure. I don’t know if there’s an agenda here but on a scale of one to ten of pressure on the BBC, I would rate this one at about 2. Jim Fitzpatrick made clear that the conferences all four main parties would get some continuous coverage. The BBC would do themselves a favour if they made it clear they were doing this on news value, in the light of the political paralysis. Cover one and you have to cover all four.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London