The time for bluff and double bluff is over…

Over at Brassneck I’ve posted a few initial thoughts on the ‘settlement’… Of course it may not be a settlement as such. We’ve yet to see the annexes, but it’s hard to see what Sinn Fein get for derailing democracy for five months other than substantially the same promise they had five months ago. Although it is unlikely that devolution of Policing and Justice will come before a European election, it’s perfectly possible that the DUP will make all manner of warm noises then and perhaps do something later in the year. Which begs the simple question: what was all that about then?

Last year Peter Preston rather prophetically provided a hint: “…the flaw here is that Stormont is rigged for “normal” stagnation, disillusion and recurrent crisis at the whim of any supposed partner.”

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  • Mark McGregor
  • It’s the dying kicks of a ‘pairing’ that utilised the bomb and the ballot box to progress their aims through force.

    With the removal of the ‘threat’ Sinn Fein are being exposed as average negotiators. 5 months since they put the ‘ball’ on the shelf they are forced to climb up, get it and put it back on the pitch.

    Nothing more and nothing less.

    Time for my Granny to get more heating oil money…

  • DC

    “what was all that about then?”

    I think it was something to do with a lack of partnership and equality (party political I must hastened to add). No, joke, joke – sorry.

    But really it was about deployment of a republican hatched ethno-national strategy (as imagined by Adams’ thinking) or perhaps more bluntly a sizing-up psychologically of the personnel in the DUP to see how they would react personally and politically to crude demands put by that party for immediate change (all the more difficult without prior political groundwork). SF got a few squeals, but there was no alternative in the end but to muck in together.

    Okay May was the deadline but was there ever any party political argument around January / February time let alone after May.

    It was like ships in the night, coasting past the May deadline. And then the executive stopped – managed anger thereafter. A little raising of the heat on both sides re serious consequences and other threats from Adams about crisis. No one really cared after a month or two because it flat lined due to the need to keep up with the simmering not to encourage ethnic boiling over. In today’s world that costs money to police and it would be detrimental if the DUP-SF lost the traction and governance control. They would have failed and cue the entrance of the other parties amid such joint failures.

    The only point at which it could have come undone was the RIR march – itself a massive mistake by SF in relation to genuine (not Irish sectarian) emotions on the ground. Afghanistan is tough. Most of the soldiers come from less privileged backgrounds within Unionism and get it tough on various fronts, to get a poke by Adams to face back into time whenever the new war front is well past that reference point in history did affront many.

    But really what is was about was to test the flexibility of the DUP to see how far it could withstand tugging from SF, to see whether they could reach over to some of the demands of its once political adversary.

  • kensei

    I am in two minds about this. On the one hand, there was a sense of drift on the issue that has been arrested — really this kind of process need put in place in the original agreement and it probably could have handled slipped dates. Second, SF gave the DUP a bit of a push to remind them that they can’t have things their own way, and that SF have ways of their own to frustrate progress. I think Robinson was clearly annoyed at several points. I am not at all convinced “patient work” would have got anywhere the way the DUP were bursting Nationalist balloons and boasting of it.

    But having upped the stakes, not getting a date looks very weak, and a lot will depend on whether things are actually done, and done within a reasonable timescale. SF had weak hand (of their own making), ultimately; the thing I can’t decide is if pulling back was the right move or if they should have just went ahead and nuked the Assembly. They certainly find it harder to pull stunts like this in the future: it’s all in, or all out.

    I will wait and see what happens.

  • DC,

    If that was what all it was about, it was surely an expensive poke?

    The least you can say is that the party took its eye off the ball. I’ve just seen Stormont flash up on the screen in the Telegraph newsroom and no one was taking a blind bit of notice of it. I suspect it’s the same for Dublin newsrooms.

    Although the party’s fortunes seem to hold steady in the IT poll at the weekend, the lapse in popularity of Gerry Adams must be a concern going into European and Local elections in the Republic.

    This hiatus hasn’t caused that drop in popularity, but the total absence of any meaningful activity in NI by those in senior positions of responsibility won’t have helped.

    Catriona Ruane, (from Mayo, lives in Louth) whose southern credentials the party surely could have used to much better effect with southern audiences has instead been used up in an absolutely pointless zero sum game she could never win in education.

  • PaddyReilly

    It’s hard to see what Sinn Féin get for derailing democracy

    No, the derailing was the democratic part. It was not the will of the people that the train should continue to run on these lines.

  • Comrade Stalin

    the thing I can’t decide is if pulling back was the right move or if they should have just went ahead and nuked the Assembly.

    I think the answer is a question : where does killing the assembly leave republicans ?

    Even if there were some sort of joint authority accompanied by bits of tokenism over the Irish language, Sinn Fein would be permanently frozen out of power on both sides of the border. The DUP would be able to pull their own strings in London. What strings can SF pull ?

  • billy

    Comrade Stalin

    What “strings” can the DUP pull?

    There is absolutely no prospect at the moment of the govt losing a vote of confidence or anything on the Westminster agenda that looks likely to bring the govt down.

    In fact, the popularity of Gordon Brown and the Labour party is on the rise (from an admittedly low point).

    The DUP had a rare moment in the spotlight a few months back and they blew it – they backed the wrong horse and then alienated the people who are likely to form the next govt.

    There is very little sympathy for NI Unionists at Westminster. Even their traditional “allies” in the Conservative party have changed beyond recognition over the past 11 years.

    I am not naive enough to think that any political party won’t do deals to stay in power. However, there is a limit to what any UK govt can give Unionists without bringing the criticism of the US + wider world on them (with almost zero support for Unionism).

    Also it’s only of value if there is a hung Parliament. Unionists have been bleating on about that for the last 11 years.

    It speaks volumes that you are pinning your hopes on something that doesn’t currently exist and is only an outside possibility in the foreseeable future.

    The DUP aren’t in any position to make demands – if they were, they certainly wouldn’t have compromised on P&J;.

  • Billy,

    Don’t these two sentences cancel each other out?

    “In fact, the popularity of Gordon Brown and the Labour party is on the rise (from an admittedly low point).

    “The DUP had a rare moment in the spotlight a few months back and they blew it – they backed the wrong horse and then alienated the people who are likely to form the next govt.”

    Where exactly was the compromise?

    I’ve had the same briefing that Mark Devenport: ie that SF have had private assurances that things will happen in months rather than years.That looks about as cast iron as Trimble’s letter from Blair.

    As for the supposed change in tone from the DUP, I would suggest that yet again some have not been paying attention (though it remains to be seen whether Nelson McCausland was dancing on pinheads when talking about a political generation.

    I’m looking forward to seeing them properly back at work…

  • Billy

    Mick

    The 2 sentences do not cancel each other out although it was a poor piece of writing on my part.

    Comrade Stalin is constantly implying that the DUP currently have the govt over a barrel. My point about improving Labour fortunes is that there is no impending crisis in view where the govt will require DUP support.

    However, I still believe that the Tories will form the next govt but they will have to wait until either 2010 or Labour decides to call an election.

    I also believe that Labour will suffer from the same fallout that the Republican party did in the US and this will enables the Tories to get a reasonable majority and, therefore, not depend on the DUP.

    The DUP are hardly the most popular party in Westminster or gifted with talented people. Apart from Dodds and Peter Robinson – the rest of their MPs range from extremly average to laughable.

    They certainly messed up the 42 day vote. Should David Cameron win an overall majority, that will come back to haunt the DUP in a big way.

    You obviously have access to much better sources than I do and I’m happy to accept your reports.

    While I don’t support SF and I have always conceded that they made a hash of it at St Andrews, I don’t believe that they have taken leave on their senses.

    I did not expect the DUP to name a date and give Jim Allister an open goal. Robinson simply could not deliver that and obviously both Sinn Fein and Gordon Brown are aware of that.

    However, I don’t believe that Sinn Fein are stupid either. They may well be giving Robinson licence to take the lead now (and face down Allister) in return for assurances not in the public domain.

    However, I am sure that Gordon Brown and others will have been made aware of these assurances. If they are not met, Sinn Fein should do what Trimble failed to do – walk away immediately, state your reasons clearly and stay away until obligations are fulfilled.

    If Sinn Fein continue to keep their end of the bargain, then the DUP must do likewise or they will be seen as intransigent (or even more than they are already)

    I want to see real, normal, pragmatic politics at Stormont. That includes negotiation and compromise on both sides on issues such as education, the Maze, ILA, P+J etc etc.

    I hope that the last few months have shown all involved that this is the only way to keep the assembly running. Frankly, (as David Trimble realised) in the medium/long term, it is the only chance that Unionists have of preserving the “Union”.

    I really hope that the DUP don’t think they can just go back to blocking as many Nationalist proposals as they can – if there is no spirit of compromise, this will prove to be a very short-lived return.

  • Billy,

    There has been a fair amount of claim and counter claim about who was stronger than whom in these pages. CS’s point is reasonable: the DUP have sought to have influence at Westminster and have had one successful play.

    But we can only speculate about the extent to which that helped neutralise SF’s attempt to externalise the problem. I suspect there was never any appetite to police this indigenous/homegrown deal and that Adams’ visit to Downing Street was again strictly for the optics.

    The reality of the veto is the same for both parties. Sinn Fein has one just as much as the DUP. This is an ultra conservative settlement that simply will not allow nationalist Ministers do something their unionist colleagues don’t approve of; nor vice versa.

    Your complaint about the DUP blocking proposals is tantamount that arguing that the DUPs won’t let SF shaft them on key issues that were already locked into their manifesto. Education is amenable and has been amenable to a negotiated settlement from the start; as was the Irish language.

    Instead we’ve had to endure this sham fight, fake threats of walk outs, and the inevitable barrage of criticism from the press for the whole political classes, once again.

    And, I repeat, for what exactly?

    As I have said on the Telegraph site in future the party would be well advised letting its parliamentary talent drive this from Stormont.

    The party president needs to make up his mind where his own future lies: in Stormont or somewhere else. But if this ‘action’ proves anything, it is that he should leave it to Martin to get on and build his team and drive party strategy from there. The party cannot afford too many more of these nasty, but entirely self imposed ‘swing door’ incidents if it still retains serious ambitions to take a meaningful part in the Republic’s politics.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Billy:

    Comrade Stalin is constantly implying that the DUP currently have the govt over a barrel. My point about improving Labour fortunes is that there is no impending crisis in view where the govt will require DUP support.

    You’ve got a crystal ball, have you ?

    There may not be a crisis now. But on the off chance that there is one – and there have been two or three within the past 12 months – Brown will want to be sure that he can count on the DUP votes. That means at the very least he won’t do anything to piss them off. You’ll note the complete absence of any effort by the Brits to advance the policing and justice powers. They could have done a variety of things – they could have tried to bully the DUP over abortion legislation (rather than fix it so that it would not happen) for example. But they won’t, because they know that the day might come within the next two years when they need their help.

    There is very little sympathy for NI Unionists at Westminster. Even their traditional “allies” in the Conservative party have changed beyond recognition over the past 11 years.

    Completely irrelevant. The British government would do a deal with Satan if it avoided having a piece of their legislation voted down. It’s not about what friends you have, it’s about what influence you can wield.

    I am not naive enough to think that any political party won’t do deals to stay in power. However, there is a limit to what any UK govt can give Unionists without bringing the criticism of the US + wider world on them (with almost zero support for Unionism).

    There’s the matter of the global economic meltdown at the moment. I appreciate that this is not as important as maintaining the power balance in Northern Ireland, but nonetheless the other governments are all distracted.

    It speaks volumes that you are pinning your hopes on something that doesn’t currently exist and is only an outside possibility in the foreseeable future.

    I am not “pinning my hopes” on the DUP being able to block things, I think it is a frightful prospect. But these problems must be faced. I think yesterday’s deal happened because Sinn Fein knew that the DUP have the upper hand, so they looked for a face saving way out of the corner they’d backed themselves into.

  • kensei

    Mick

    I’ve had the same briefing that Mark Devenport: ie that SF have had private assurances that things will happen in months rather than years.That looks about as cast iron as Trimble’s letter from Blair.

    That is the wrong comparison, Mick. Trimble did not get assurances from the person ultimately responsible for delivering what he wanted, he got them from a third party.

    The DUP could pull back on this but the crisis that creates would be worse than this one. And fi they’ve heavily briefed that this will happen then they’ve made their position more difficult. Politically it was very difficult for them to give a date without looking weak. Now SF do. But if they ultimately get what they want well shy of the next election, then it is not a bad result. I believe you keep telling me delivery matters more than optics. So I will wait and see what happens.

  • Mick Fealty

    Ken,

    I’ll buy that. I also note that the DUPs are doing the heavy lifting on the public end of selling this; which indicates the parties are back in lockstep again.

    Still, nothing is publicly guaranteed.

  • DC

    Yes no guarantee but I was struck by the Glenrothes by-election which everyone even tbe bookies had the nationalists to come out well in advance of Labour.

    Timely enough to remind us all of Dodds’ and Paisley Jnr’s remarks about: “political lifetime”. A political lifetime is that of now and the next election. End of.