The DUP’s £1 billion deal looks set for a second stage of direct rule

When we’re reduced to praising James Brokenback for masterly inactivity, we’ve surely found rock bottom. One tiny flicker of life  turns out to be an illusion after all.  DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has denounced as “fake news” a  story from the new Financial Times Ireland correspondent ( and ex-Irish Times ) Arthur Beesley,  that “Theresa May’s £1 billion is on hold as to talks falter” (£)

There may be less to this than meets the eye.

A budget imposed by London would simply execute the fiscal programme settled for Belfast before the DUP/Conservative deal, said two people with knowledge of the plan. The “confidence and supply” deal agreed between the DUP and Mrs May’s Conservatives remains intact in Westminster.

However, the £1bn of funding will only be released only if a power-sharing executive is restored or London imposes full-blown direct rule. A spokesman for the Conservative party said their goal remained for the executive to be re-established, and for the £1bn funding to be provided.

If this means anything at all, it can only be a tiny gesture to  insinuate  that the UK Government is not entirely in hock to the DUP.

But any withholding must be strictly time limited. For if phasing in the extra billion was held back indefinitely, the DUP would end their support for the Conservative government. Implementation of the deal would require a further stage of direct rule after the budget.  To which the DUP are hardly likely to object under the circumstances.

The FT’s source seems to confirm this:

He added: “If it proves impossible for an executive to be formed, we have recognised in the confidence and supply agreement the need for additional funding to deal with Northern Ireland’s particular circumstances.”

So on this one, small earthquake in Chile.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood writes in the Belfast Telegraph

For nationalism in particular, that requires us to seriously reflect. We are now facing into direct rule with a difference – the difference being that because of the numbers at Westminster, Arlene Foster and the DUP are being gifted a blank cheque over all of our futures. A Tory/DUP government is a combination which will do nothing to respect the Irish identity or protect our collective rights.

Nationalism across this island deserves a better strategy than the one which has left us with no Assembly, no North-South institutions, no voice in the context of Brexit and is now threatening to place us at the prolonged mercy of a coalition between the DUP and the Tories at Westminster.

It deserves a better strategy than the one which left no legacy of substantial economy or social success after 10 years at the top of government. For all the vague talk of Gerry Adams’ broader political agenda, no one should be blind as to where that strategy has now brought us. Sinn Fein’s negotiating has delivered British direct rule.

As usual, the analysis is correct but the solution, non-existent. You’re a  politician not a commentator Colum. What are you going to do about it?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London