A reply to Turgon on who won last week?I personally doubt the value of anyone seeking to make a victory lap even when they have achieved something broadly positive. It is better to be focused, consistent and precise rather singing from the rooftops. There is a temptation to try and build Unionist confidence in the value of politics by over-egging positive developments. However, such a process will not be made in great leaps. Also Unionism’s view of negotiations needs to mature, it isn’t about victory, it is about getting your interests addressed. If you achieve that then you have been successful.
Turgons’ piece takes on various aspects but the core question is:
“Firstly if the latest deal is so poor for Sinn Fein and so good for the DUP why did SF agree to it?”
‘Poor deals’ – It is a fact of life that people, organisations and governments do sign up to ‘poor’ deals for a variety of reasons. Unionists don’t have to look to far to find a precedent – the UUP and the Belfast Agreement (Turgon and I would share doubts about St Andrews too). Why did it occur in this case I offer three possible reasons:
Negotiating skills – There is a strange aspect of Unionist political culture and that is the veneration of the Republican movement. It verges on presenting them as all-conquering even omnipotent. It is becoming ever clearer that during the process that London and Dublin had a predisposition to be generous to republicans and assisted them in the process e.g. Powell writing PIRA statements. The concession a day wasn’t because they were such crafted and wily negotiators but because the people in charge wanted to give it to them. SF now finds itself without many of the key individuals in power and in a devolved setting faced with no one with a similar predisposition. As you admit part of the problem was Sinn Fein’s past failure to negotiate the date, they had showed they could make mistakes in negotiations. Unionists may have to realise that we could have been making false political gods of republicanism and its leaders. They may not be as all-conquering and omnipotent as is so often imagined in the Unionist mind.
The Blame Game – The manner of how Sinn Fein tried to disrupt did not ensure the equal application of blame or pressure. The DUP were not getting off scot free but SF were getting more of the blame. The poorly chosen ground SF tried to fight the battle on should also reinforce questions about their strategic skills.
Circumstances – Consider what was happening beyond policing and justice, who would have predicted when Sinn Fein started its blocking tactics that the global economy would go from dodgy to down the toilet? This increased the pressure to stop the blockage. Also Sinn Fein’s preference for the two governments to ‘re-engage’ didn’t happen. There were no big pressure cooker talks at some old castle, largely because the governments had plenty else to do when faced with an economic crisis. Negotiation Plan A didn’t happen for them and they were left with the Plan B of sorting it out with the DUP, a scenario which always meant they were going to get less.
There are two other issues worth responding too – the preferability of direct rule either from a unionist or republican perspective. There is a degree of wilful ignorance to present Direct Rule as a benign option for Unionism. While there are no guarantees what will happen, past precedent bodes the least well for Unionism. For republicanism, again there are no guarantees what will happen even if past precendent gives them greater grounds for optimism. One advantage devolution has for Sinn Fein is their direct participation while direct rule it is indirect. Sinn Fein seems to think its southern strategy could have new life. The common perception has been this increased the willingness to walk away (one I held), maybe I and the common perception is wrong. Perhaps fulfilling a constructive role in Northern Ireland is a key to southern success not wrecking. SF demonstrating they are more than a protest party.
Overall it needs to be accepted it is possible for Unionist to go to a negotiating table and not get screwed.
PS Turgon what are you basing the claim on that the selection system defaults to dHondt?