Casting bread upon the water

With a Westminster election guaranteed by May, Sinn Féin’s brinkmanship with the DUP on Policing and Justice may be misjudged or deliberately/blindly designed to bring about collapse of the Assembly. It is hard to see how they expect delivery from the DUP without associated painful compromises from themselves. After the European elections and Irisgate the DUP were already facing the prospect of a Westminster election likely to bring real damage and loses – the TUV and UUP are seen as beneficiaries to various levels. The thought of delivery on Policing a Justice to SF ahead of this election would surely have had DUP strategists fearful of compounding potential loses by providing a stick to their own back for opponents. Indeed, the DUP may have calculated that even with concessions from SF on other areas (parades), cutting a deal now may have too much electoral risk. They may be calculating that heading into two elections where they have faced SF down and not compromised could counter any predicted decline in their vote and actually be a preferred option.

SF in particular should be aware of the complexities of managing change on these delicate issues. The wording of their Special Ard Fheis motion in Jan 2007 meant they left endorsement of Policing open to the Ard Comhairle at some non-defined future point. This left them free to contest the March 2007 election with plausible deniability on having endorsed Policing and Justice. However, once they returned in strength to the Assembly in late March of that year it was only a few short weeks before they delivered full support despite no real change or guarantee of devolution of P&J. SF must recognise that a definitive major policy move from the DUP is nearly impossible in advance of an election, just as it was for them – even a fudged outcome wouldn’t seem sensible unless it had major sweeteners attached.

If SF has entered these negotiations with no intention to compromise on areas that will help the DUP sell change in advance of Westminster elections, have they really entered with any expectation of delivery? It seems they may have either miscalculated the DUP’s ability to deliver on terms acceptable to themselves or calculated that an election with its unpredictable outcome is somehow potentially more beneficial.

If they push the button and bring about collapse and an Assembly election it will be a high-risk strategy that merely pushes the same negotiations to the other side of an election where no one can foresee the political landscape to be faced. Maybe in this instance discretion could be the better part of valour at a strategic level and these issues should be left alone until after the Westminster poll if they seriously want the DUP to have a political space to provide ‘product’?

  • alf

    No matter how SF play this the DUP lose, the electorate is not with them, it does SF little harm to walk, though they would rather be seen to have put the effort in at least, the Dup think they are fooling the public with regards to talking and compromise, no chance

  • alf

    If all you want is parades down contentious routes then why vote Dup may as weel vote TUV, if you want some progress may as well vote uup,

  • Wan

    Collapsing the assembly and insuing election would give the DUP something concrete to base their strategy on. If they see the TUV and UUP gaining votes at their expense they would have to make a decision on wheather to be a “Devolution” party doing a bit of quid pro quo with nats and UU’s and not follow the “nix everything Sinn Féin want” strategy as a way to keep the hardliners on board or go the other way and return to being a “say NO” party and refuse to deal at all with any nationalists. Either way a choice has to be made because this is getting them nowhere. The TUV will always have the “we won’t do business with terrorists” shtick to beat them with and they look like they are destroying powersharing by being too confrontational to the more moderate voters.

  • danielmoran

    Wan msg 3. Since Robinson has taken over as DUP follower, he has lived up to that,and paralysed by fear of TUV on one hand and UUP on the other, he has shown he’s no leader. By suggesting a date for policing and justice for May 4th and BEFORE the general Election, the govt, along with the Taoseach, are sending a message to the DUP that they [Cowen, and Brown]see this as SF see it, and showing the DUP voters that nobody is taken in by the talk about ‘community confidence’ and it won’t help PR to let the lowest bigots in his party off the leash to come out with snnering comments desisned to annoy nats, and shore up the base. The end is coming for the DUP days as serious political unit.

  • Chris Donnelly

    The premise would appear to be false, Mark.

    ‘Brinkmanship’ more readily depicts the DUP’s approach. After all, there is little evidence that parading was regarded as significant enough an issue within unionism to hold up movement on policing and justice.

    Even the most significant figure within loyalist paramilitarism- for long the very individuals relied upon to crank up the pressure in local areas in the lead up to contentious parades- has called for a deal on policing and justice.

    The DUP clearly threw the parading issue into the mix precisely because they believed it could not be delivered by Sinn Fein. Robinson has calculated that, with the TUVites lurking and in the shadow of the Irisgate affair, the DUP need to be seen to be facing down republicans, not acquiescing to something many of their senior elected figures have very publicly stated would not occur any time soon- see references to ‘political lifetimes/ lifetimes of the assembly.’

  • Mark McGregor


    I agree with the majority of your post and it seems to reflect much of what I’ve written.

    However, as has been continually noted on Slugger (to the annoyance of many) SF did not receive an agreed date for devolution of P&J from the DUP. So forcing the issue to dissolution of the Assembly is SF taking punative action over their poor negotiation at St Andrews – brinkmanship at the very least imo.

  • Chris Donnelly

    The ‘continual’ noting of that does not detract from the obvious fact that both governments and Sinn Fein believed that the DUP would deliver upon agreements reached, written or otherwise.

    Now I know that has annoyed many indeed, but it’s the reality of where we are- in spite of endless spinning on Slugger to the contrary.

    I’d actually concur to some extent about that illulstrating a poor negotiating return; but at least one that republicans have since rectified as the spotlight remains firmly on the DUP.

  • ooh aah

    “push the button”

    Sinn fein have nothing to lose and everything to gain by forcing an election. The ucunf, dup pact (if it ever happens) has only galvanized nationalist support for the shinners even more so that the sticking point is oo marches. Nothing has changed for the dup no matter how much spin “facing down republicism” they put on it Iris”lock”gate hasn’t gone away you know and the TUV won’t let the electorate forget that or “sharing power with people with blood on there hands” also when will the investigations into peter and iris be ready? maybe just in time for an election. The dup is cornered, too extremist for the moderates and to moderate for the extremists. I don’t think they will be wiped out like the uup but they will take a big hit with both the tuv and ucunf gaining and martin first minster.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    SF have indeed something to gain by an election.
    The 108 seats will still probably break down about 54 unonist 44 nationalist and 10 “other”.
    the DUP will lose some
    the UUP win some
    TUV win some
    SF stay about the same
    SDLP about the same.

    the likelihood is SF would still be DFM.
    SF could do it because they CAN do it.
    Really this Plan A is all unionists have. SF actually prefer Plans B, C, D and E

  • Nordie Northsider

    Nothing very scientific about this, but it seems to me that most people south of the border – even people with no grá for SF – blame the DUP. I hear no one blaming SF. So what, you might say, but it’s important in the sense that SF will not be seen as wreckers and will suffer no bad consequences in the south – a consideration very important to them.

    I’m not sure I agree with FitzjamesHorse that SF will stay about the same in an Assembly election. If SF spin the line of Unionist intransigence, Nationalists may feel compelled to give SF a stronger voice.

  • ooh aah

    It’s not about SF staying the same it’s that the unionist bloc will be split 3 ways, but anyway SF as the biggest nationalist party will have there vote increased as it attracts the ucunf/dup pact protest vote and as the biggest party, office of first minister

  • OscarTheGrouch

    Weirdly I kinda agree with Fitz (!), but I would suggest its Plan A because its all the DUP have.

    If they don’t attempt to give the ‘No Surrender’ message they lose their only real concrete election tenet, yet they can still do the ‘We tried everything to make it work’ – thus probably succeeding to sit between both stools. I dont think the TUV are really a threat – Allister is all smoke and mirrors and the UU still seem dithery, middle class and confusing to unionist/anti-SF supporters.

    By turning up the Crisis ‘Heat’ they continue to marginalise the electorate, which suits SF too – and frankly and sadly the SDLP just look a mess at the moment.

    Sure an election or two is a bit of fun!

  • Tochais Síoraí

    Fitzjames, your prediction would probably mean under d’hondt the SDLP taking a ministerial seat from the DUP.

  • Mark,

    “Maybe in this instance discretion could be the better part of valour at a strategic level and these issues should be left alone until after the Westminster poll if they seriously want the DUP to have a political space to provide ‘product’?”

    Disingenuous remarks or what?

    I think it would be fair to say that if SF took the course you are recommending anti-agreement Republicans, like yourself, would have an absolute field day for them being pushed around by the DUP.

    Allister is equally disingenuous claiming he does not want a deal to emerge, if there is no deal then his electoral prospects will be seriously impaired.

  • Mark McGregor


    Disingenuous how? My political opinions are well know, that doesn’t stop me taking a step back and casting an analytical eye over things I don’t particurly agree with.

    Real disenguity would be using a pseudonym like ‘Mild Unionist’ and clearly being a SF supporter for example.

  • Mark,

    “Disingenuous how?”

    You are a suggesting a course of action as being the best one for SF, when it is clearly not, but rather the favoured outcome for those including yourself who are Republican and anti-GFA.

  • west belfast


    are you anti-gfa? if so when did you change your mind and why?

    Im not being awkward – I respect your views and would like to know.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Tochais…its not a prediction just a likelihood.

  • west belfast

    Another meeting on unionist unity according to H&M. Held in the Orange Order HQ – good to see UCUNF sticking to its non-sectarian future!

    The weakness of the DUP is staggering – a few years ago they had UUP dead and buried. One good vote for TUV and they run for cover – pathetic!

  • doflan

    you are forgetting that even after an election you could not be certain that you would ever have an assembly again. Joint Authority may well become the preferred option for many on the nationalist side. Would that be any worse than the circus that is hopefully due to leave town.

  • Scaramoosh

    Perhaps we could have a declaration from all Unionist politcians as to their membership of masonic lodges, and the masonic lodges could reveal how many of their members are policmen, judges and ex-terrorists.

  • Considering how Unionists came out ahead after GFA (articles 2 & 3 gone, IRA retiring, SF working for HM’s little statelet etc.), it beggars belief how politically, and I use this word reluctantly, stupidly they have acted in recent weeks. They could have “played nice” with SF, gave them a little of what the wanted, created cross-community confidence which would have copper-fastened the union for a generation or two at least.

    Instead what to do we have: unionists playing their old sectarian tricks, nationalists who gave a lot more than they received, rightfully furious, and dissidents no doubt claiming vindication to disaffected nationalist youth who’ll no doubt turn into the next crop of terrorists. Not to talk of investors avoiding NI like the plague in the middle of a downturn.

    If Unionists only care about their community, as it appears, fine. But don’t enter a power-sharing agreement with nationalists under the pretense of cooperation. It’s reprehensibly dishonest which may not disturb you now but that dishonesty will ultimately undermine the union which you cherish so much.

  • John Joe

    Sinn Fein delivered on policing. In fairness to the DUP they merely continued the previous UUP policy of a puerile pretence to partnership government with a wink to the galleries every now and then to let everyone know that they hadn’t gone all soft. So I don’t see how anyone could be misjudged in bringing down the Assembly – it was designed to work on the principle of partnership has only happened grudgingly in fits and starts.

    Putting Westminister and deals brokered by the Tories, or more damagingly for some, the Orange Order, aside. No matter what way you pitch the electoral stats, the DUP are going to come out of the Assembly election with less seats. Depending on how far the TUV hold their vote, even 6-7 seats is going to be a significant inroad, never mind 10-12. The Orange Order revelations dispel any lingering myth that the UUP/UNCUF harbours a desire to travel a non-sectarian route (and, despite the previous denials, casts the relegation of Catholic candidates in an even less attractive light). This will presumably see some returning voters from the DUP but also a slip to the Alliance with some voters even going to the Greens (who will probably pick up another seat, or two). Taking all this into account, and since these issues have been hanging around since before St Andrews as an obvious problem to tackle, its clear the DUP, as a party, just don’t have a strategy for partnership government in the Assembly.

    I’m sure some on here will now happily blog on how far the current DUP strategy is really a resigning issue for Catriona Ruane, in particular, since it reflects the parlous state of mathematics education in Northern Ireland.