Interesting couple of days in Swansea at the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly (or the British Irish Assembly as one representative called it)… One of the hot backroom topics of speculation was when would the devolution of policing and justice be let down (the British proposals are expected to released today). Most non DUP sources Slugger spoke to emphasised the importance of getting the deal done before Christmas (Martin McGuinness’ preferred horizon); because of the shortage of time left in a timetable which may contain the last Labour government legislation for another decade. Everyone is singing from the same hymnsheet bar the DUP themselves. What’s preoccupying the DUP is the General Election (predicted by most to happen in May, but any anti Brown coup could foreground it to as early as February) and the damage they are likely to sustain from that intervention (our BIPA interview with Paul Bew briefly touches on that)…
Do a deal now and have a sense of movement to sell to the electorate say his political rivals. But not doing the deal now could buy them another year and possibly a new Tory administration with a decent majority. And in the meantime they baton down the hatches and hope the damage is limited.
In 2005, the DUP lucked out beyond their expectations when the UUP lost four out of its five seats. Pre the European elections few inside the party rated the efficacy of Reg’s game of footsie with David Cameron. And in many ways they still don’t. But now it’s clear that Allister has melded that rump of Unionist discontents into an effective rearguard force sufficient to snatch the party’s previously comfortable lead in previous elections, all the UU has to do is hold its strength and pray for a big enough dent in that DUP lead.
Vulnerabilities include: to varying degrees all three Antrim seats; Strangford and Upper Bann. The loss of all of those then contains the possibility of scaring the horses inside the Assembly. The loss of some could written off as the consequences of getting down to business. Sinn Fein on the other hand can look on the next electoral challenge with some equanimity.
The NIO are hoping for an official sign off about February. Sinn Fein want it before Christmas. But as we’ve pointed out ad nauseum in the past, this remains a decision for the DUP and no one else. And that may depend purely on whatever confidence building measures they can squeeze out of their partners in OFMdFM.
But at the moment both parties are privately complaining that the other is still refusing to talk what they each define as ‘turkey’.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty