A Graduated Response?

I’ve just listened to Liam Clarke and David McCann discuss today’s developments at Stormont on BBC Evening Extra (34 mins in), and Clarke makes a good point that the DUP have played their hand pretty well over the last few days. Over the weekend it was announced that Theresa Villiers might ask David Cameron to legislate for welfare changes at Westminster as a last resort and that they have also agreed to fund the Civil Service voluntary exit scheme. There may also be further funding to pay for any body set up to deal with issues relating to the past.

However, the DUP didn’t wait for the Secretary of State to make her statement on the future of the Executive and at lunch time today Peter Robinson made the announcement that the DUP were withdrawing from it. As David noted in his most recent post on here, things do not look good for the Executive at all and if you take a much closer look at Robinson’s announcement, the DUP intend to wield a veto over pretty much any new development.

On any further meeting of the Executive:

“There will be no further meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive unless in exceptional circumstances”.

On the talks outcome:

If “satisfactory resolution in the talks is not possible….as a last resort Ministerial resignations will follow”.

On the future of the Executive following the inevitable election:

“We must make it clear that any election that follows such an eventuality will not be an election to return to the present Assembly arrangements, as we will not nominate a First Minister until a fundamental and more wide-ranging negotiation produces a system that can fully function”.

Now, by adopting this stance the DUP may well be painting themselves in to a corner here. If we are to see a return to business as usual, one of two things will have to happen: they will either have received massive concessions from Sinn Fein, which is highly unlikely; or they will have to gently row back from this pretty hard-line stance. Either way it’s looking highly unlikely that the folks on the hill will be sitting round the Executive table any time soon.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I’m not entirely sure that the DUP have jumped the gun on the Secretary of State – she was never going to propose the suspension of the executive or the assembly this soon in any case. I also do not believe that the end of devolution is inevitable. Possible, certainly, or maybe likely – but not inevitable.

    Instead, I think the DUP game is afoot, and Robinson has already worked out all the possible moves, exhausting the straightforward options and moving onto the more risky ones. The first step was to sue for adjournment of the assembly. Having failed to do that Robinson is now blocking Executive business and, through OFMDFM, has blocked the confirmation of Danny Kennedy’s resignation, which rather cleverly impedes the running of the d’Hondt process to appoint a new minister and creates some space for talks over a period of a few weeks to identify the way forward.

    In the meantime, Robinson has set about dividing his opponents and getting them to turn on each other. The first move was to use Belfast City Council to withdraw prisoner funding, a decision he knew would put the PUP on the defensive and expose divisions between them, the UUP and the TUV councillor. These kinds of cunning initiatives are classical Robinson hallmarks and we can expect to see a few more of them.

    The next step is to set the ground for the talks. Robinson has sought to move the spotlight back to Sinn Féin by encouraging the Secretary of State to start moves to return welfare powers back to Westminster. This is something the British are clearly minded to do in any case, and DUP encouragement, together with the likely support of the Irish government, makes this a likely outcome.

    SF who will find themselves on the spot. If they leave the Executive, then the DUP will hope they can continue government. If SF stay, the DUP can claim they are successfully putting manners on SF.

    [it’s not clear whether SF will accept a government that does not include them. But at this stage I think the DUP would be willing to try it, or at least use the threat of trying it.]

    The cards may actually fall in such a way that Nesbitt ends up looking very silly.

    Another important detail is that now may in fact be the best time to have an election. Despite appearances to the contrary, the unionist electorate led by the DUP has shown itself to be more nuanced than people might otherwise believe. They accepted powersharing with SF, and accepted the devolution of policing and justice powers. Despite the difficulties with powersharing they granted the DUP a strong mandate once again in 2015.

    It is worth pointing out that Mike Nesbitt’s offering of Unionism outside the Executive was already offered by Bob McCartney in 2007 and has been offered since then by Jim Allister. Bob couldn’t win a single seat, and there are no signs that Jim is ready to win anywhere outside of North Antrim. Both of those men were substantially more experienced at electoral campaigning than Mike Nesbitt is.

    It remains the case that the DUP is substantially better funded and equipped to fight an election than the UUP is. The UUP have significantly fewer MLAs and MPs, which reduces the size of the warchest they can bring to bear. For historical reasons they also don’t have the activist base of the kind required to bring a serious fight to the DUP. They might be able to knock a couple of seats from the DUP here and there, but they can’t hope to sweep the board.

    A lot of people thought May 2015 with East Belfast returning to DUP control might be Peter Robinson’s swansong. Instead I’m wondering if Robinson might see his legacy as a reinvigorated DUP showing at the assembly, with the ground clearly laid ahead for the new party leadership to proceed on.

  • If Teresa Villiers was as canny as Peter Robinson, she would announce a consultation on having a referendum on handing Northern Ireland over to the Irish Government, so making clear the English attitude to NI

  • Robin Keogh

    While Fine Gael are in Dublin and the Tories are in London, the manufactured statelet will be allowed to go down the drain.

  • Pasty2012

    Exactly what is the term “Satisfactory” to the DUP ? Seems that Peter is saying to the SDLP vote to exclude SF from office or we will pull the plug. The end result of all this will of course mean the Assembly falls and Articles 2&3 are reinstated along with direct rule with Dublin input. The Fact is that the DUP and UUP are still, as admitted by Mike Nesbit, sitting in committee’s along with the Unionist Paramilitaries who are fully armed and continue to Murder people.
    The Removal of the Welfare Powers by the British would be an act against Democracy and play into the hands of Dissidents. The GFA was voted on by the people of Ireland and it is up to the elected representatives to find agreement on the issues before them – no matter how hard that is. To remove the powers that were agreed within the GFA is the British ripping up the agreement and hands the Dissidents a propaganda coup which can then exploit.
    The British may have to try and find a balance in order to offset the move against the Nationalist Party’s by also Legislating for the Irish Language Act which has been agreed by the British Government and blocked by the Unionists.
    David Cameron’s actions can be seen to be looking to the future and ensuring he gets the votes he may need as the Parliament goes through the next few years, however that could be at the cost of Peace in the North if he makes the wrong move and Dissident support suddenly jumps on British Betrayal of the GFA and the safeguards within it.
    Everyone can see that this is the Unionists making a grab for some form of Majority Rule which they can not be trusted with.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I agree with a lot of what you say Pasty. The dissidents have been a bit too quiet for my liking and what odds they have a chance to seize the “initiative” in their minds. “We always told you themmuns just want London or majority rule”. SF are playing it pretty quiet and a dissident spectacular could be used by both ends of the political spectrum for their own ends. In essence lives are cheap for both political unionism and republicanism. The whole situation could deteriorate very quickly as the usual suspects play their political parlour games. Lest we forget!!

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Unionism is going to carve its self to pieces in a blood bath at any next elections. Robinson’s Legacy will be one of having down graded and lost the DUP Electoral Gains as the biggest NI Party !

  • Reader

    If any of the other parties in either jurisdiction has a plan, they have kept it secret.

  • chrisjones2

    “sitting in committee’s along with the Unionist Paramilitaries who are fully armed and continue to Murder people”

    Who are they sitting with and where?

  • Redstar

    They sit with unionist paramilitaries when those killers are on councils or policing boards and of course they were given a hearty welcome to various Unionist forums. The hypocrisy is nauseating

  • murdockp

    the farce continues. we all talk as if they have relevance and deserve respect, they do not. the fact that when they are not there their absence is not noticed by the electorate sums up for me how incompetent they all are.

    personally direct rule by professional civil servants in London is a much better proposition than these self serving baffoons, their advisors, many of which would struggle to hold down a job elsewhere and NI’s lazy, work to rule civil service. good riddance I say.

  • Zeno

    “Everyone can see that this is the Unionists making a grab for some form of Majority Rule which they can not be trusted with.”

    Yeah but do we not hear almost every week on here that Nationalists will soon be a majority?

  • murdockp

    yes, the DUP are milking the Westminster teat on the back of the death of a republican many which many in the DUP may have quietly celebrated his demise.

    stranger than fiction

  • murdockp

    a wise man once said ‘don’t underestimate the stupidity of people’ I fear the DUP will be ok after all is said and done

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Fair Point !

  • NotNowJohnny

    What leads you to conclude that direct rule would be administered by ‘professional civil servants in London’? Surely it would be ‘lazy, work to rule’ civil servants in NI who would administer direct rule as was the case previously during 1972 to 1998 and during periods of suspension post 1998?

  • NotNowJohnny

    It’s interesting to note that the UUP appears to have no difficulty sitting in government with either Sinn Fein or the PUP on Belfast City Council.


  • murdockp

    leadership, strategy and accountability. they can hold the NI civil servants to account.

    the deteriotion in public services and finances only started when stormont was given the controls.

  • Croiteir

    the ulsterisation policy in action – keep it local

  • Catcher in the Rye

    There is absolutely no reason to believe this is will be the case, especially not after the DUP won 8 seats in May 2015 and increased their vote share over the 2010 election.

    There is no way that the incompetent, disorganised, poorly funded and aging Ulster Unionist Party can take on the DUP. Pulling out of the Executive is a gimmick, not a long term strategy.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    She has no legal basis on which to do so.

    The British attitude to NI, since the early 1970s, has been that they have no selfish or strategic economic interest here. If anyone doesn’t understand this by now they’re not very bright.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Seems that Peter is saying to the SDLP vote to exclude SF from office or we will pull the plug

    The SDLP do not have enough seats in the Assembly to exclude SF from office even if they wanted to.

    The Removal of the Welfare Powers by the British would be an act against Democracy and play into the hands of Dissidents.

    Whether this is the fault of the British or of SF is purely a matter of opinion.

    To remove the powers that were agreed within the GFA is the British ripping up the agreement and hands the Dissidents a propaganda coup which can then exploit.

    Again. If this is the case then why aren’t SF doing more to avoid this situation ?

    You can’t just go around saying “give us what we want or the dissidents will get worse”. That’s blackmail.

  • James7e

    Yes indeed – the only thing that can save NI is a Sinn Fein government…

  • Sergiogiorgio


  • Zig70

    It is in very bad taste for the uup & dup to use mcguigans death as a political football. Nobody really thinks they give a toss about the lives or deaths of folk in the markets. If it was my family, I’d be complaining. Meanwhile the sdlp vote waits for joint authority and SF tries to walk the tightrope between collapse and the need for power. It does cost a lot to keep the sectarian element impotent at Stormont, less than conflict?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Frankly that’s horse shit Catcher. Unionism decided upon this narrative by seizing an “opportunity” to give SF a shoeing through linking comments made by the PSNI, as yet unproven, to the death of ex Provo no. 2. This unravelling is at the choice of unionism though I’ve no doubt the whataboutery will start in earnest….

  • Zig70

    I think a lot of nationalists will be reading the UUP response as indicating that the Orange Order are firmly back in control of the party. Many hoped that post GFA their influence in government had wained

  • Alan N/Ards

    I not really sure that unionism wants ( or is making a grab for) majority rule. The majority of the people ( in NI) voted for the GFA so it’s not going to happen. We know that and they know that. There is, of course, no love lost between SF and the DUP and they are still fighting the “war” that should have ended when the GFA was signed. But of course the DUP were opposed to the GFA and have never accepted it as a legitimate compromise.

    It is really time for SF to put clear water between themselves and the provo’s. It is time for Gerry Adams etc to stop the nonsense that there are no provo republicans involved in crime, intimidation and murder. It’s time to cut them loose.

    As for unionist politicians sitting in committee’s with loyalists – they are as hypocritical as Gerry Adams etc.

    If the Westminster Government brings in an Irish language act, then good. That will wipe the smile off the face of DUP clowns Gregory Campbell and Nelson McCausland. Bring it on.

  • NotNowJohnny

    You seem to be making a good argument for NI Civil Servants running the place as it was NI Civil Servants whomwere running the place prior to the devolution of powers to Stormont and who (if your assessment is correct) were making a better job of Handling the public services and finances.

    However I’m not sure who is going to provide the leadership, strategy and accountability that you refer to under direct rule. Civil Servants are more accountable under devolution than they ever were under direct rule. As for leadership and strategy, it is still NI Civil Servants who will be responsible for providing those to the NICS under direct rule.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I think it is pretty clear by my comments and the context that I’m referring to welfare reform, and not the shooting of McGuigan.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Apols Catcher – my bag.

  • Zeno

    “The British attitude to NI, since the early 1970s, has been that they have no selfish or strategic economic interest here.”

    Same as NI and the ROI then.

  • Granni Trixie

    [Mod edit] …you are writing as though the DUP have not shot themselves in the foot many times – Wells and Poots were much criticised Ministers, internal feuds spilling into public domain, Jenny Palmer, Sammy Wilson, a Spad. It all builds up.
    And do you really think that should the Shit hit the fan over alleged corruption the DUP will emerge electorally unscathed?

  • Pasty2012

    Nationalists becoming a Majority is likely at some stage in the not to distant future. The Unionists were the Majority in the North for a long time and used that majority status to gerrymander the vote in areas were they were the minority, such as Derry and Armagh Councils which although were Majority Nationalist returned a Unionist Majority. In all areas where the Unionists are the Majority there is no respect for Nationalists and the what to continuously push Unionist symbols that are not wanted, just look at the situation this week in the mainly Nationalist town of Ballycastle with the Merchant Navy flag being flown. Unionists just don’t want to fly their flags in Unionist Areas, they are intent on creating ill feeling by passing motions directing that their flags be flown in Nationalist areas were they are not wanted. Unionists Misruled the North when there was Majority Rule and they still show they can’t be trusted.

  • Zeno

    I understand all that, but why on earth would they want majority rule if they are not going to be in a majority soon?

  • Paddy Reilly

    I suppose that just as ‘Majority Rule’ in Ulster means the
    majority of those who are left after Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan have been expelled, ‘Majority Rule’ in Stormont will mean rule by the majority of those who are left after Sinn Féin is expelled for misbehaviour.

  • Pat Mac Murphy

    Ever thought ‘re-partition’ could be considered at some point ?

  • Pat Mac Murphy

    Don’t forget magic Mike.. He’s a leading light…. To unionist armageddon.

  • Pat Mac Murphy

    It would be funny though…

  • Zeno

    In what way?

  • Pat Mac Murphy

    Unionists may feel west of the Bann could be forsaken to preserve their ‘majority’. #justathought