Jamie Bryson is a well known anti-agreement Loyalist activist with an interest in law, politics and writing. He is author of “My Only Crime Was Loyalty”, an account of his role in the Union Flag protests and his subsequent lengthy and complex criminal trial.
In an interview with Danny Morrison from the Andersonstown News just over a month ago, the former Republican prisoner remarked that surely the DUP would say that by Ruth Patterson- and other independents- standing in hotly contested constituencies this could shred the Unionist vote and open the door to a Sinn Fein First Minister.
My response was this ““That’s a ridiculous argument to make. Robinson, and now Arlene, can’t sign a letter without McGuinness okaying it. Any unionist that doesn’t recognise that is being conned by the DUP. It’s a joint office.
“That argument plays into the fear politics and it’s aimed at intimidating others, within Unionism, with a different view from standing against the DUP.
“Even as First Minister, McGuinness will not have any more power after May than he has now. The core problem is the ludicrous system based upon a mandatory coalition that allows that joint office, and it is the DUP that props that arrangement up.”
The position of First and Deputy First Minister is a joint post in practice and in law. There, in reality, is no First and Deputy First Minister, but rather two co-equal partners. One has no power without the other.
The DUP send out a rallying battle cry to their voter base effectively saying ‘vote for us or you will have a Sinn Fein First Minister’. This conveniently glosses over the fact that in law we already do have a Sinn Fein First Minister.
Thanks to the mandatory coalition – underpinned and sustained by the DUP themselves – they then ‘warn’ the electorate of the dangers of Sinn Fein, their own closest partners in Government!
The Belfast Agreement – flawed as it was – at least decreed that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister posts would be selected by a cross-community vote.
This would have ensured that so long as Unionism remained the majority tradition, so too would the First Minister post remain in the hands of a Unionist.
But that all changed at St Andrews.
As a result of secret talks in London between the DUP and Sinn Fein in November 2006 – a new provision that the First Minister be selected by the “largest party” paved the way for a member of Sinn Fein to take that position should they become the largest party.
Contrary to the original Belfast Agreement, this now requires no Nationalist majority. The First Minister position could be held by a Nationalist even whilst Unionism remains the majority tradition in the house!
One would think that given the DUP’s apparent fear of a Sinn Fein First Minister, that they would have objected strongly to this change in the nomination process and insisted on the “largest party from the largest designation” mechanism.
So how many DUP MP’s objected to the St Andrews agreement when it came before the House of Commons? None of them.
Instead, the DUP accepted the change and has used it as a clever electoral tool which enables them to peddle the “vote for us, or get McGuinness” line as a handy means to manipulate the Unionist electorate into voting for them!
However, the facts are clear-
- OFMDFM is a joint post in law. We already have a Sinn Fein First Minister because the position of First and Deputy First Minister is equal.
- The door to a Sinn Fein ‘First Minister’ is open thanks to the changes the DUP cynically allowed inserted in the St Andrews Agreement.
The shameless fear politics being deployed by the DUP would carry more weight if it was unpinned by genuine conviction rather than a mean form of politicking, designed to mislead the Unionist electorate.