to the pre-election expectations of this writer
at least, it now seems likely that the Rev Ian
Paisley will agree to form a powersharing executive
with Sinn Féin by the March 26th deadline.
party's resounding success in last week's Assembly
election, and the abysmal showing of anti-agreement
opponents, has convinced even the most sceptical
of Paisley's colleagues that the broad mass of
the unionist electorate favours such a move.
isn't as though there are still any unresolved
substantive issues, such as the absence of republican
support for policing, around which potential DUP
dissidents could rally. With the enthusiasm of
converts, Sinn Féin spokespeople are almost
on a daily basis calling on republican communities
to co-operate with the PSNI.
should there be any difficulty in securing a much
sought-after financial dividend to kick-start
the new administration. A DUP guarantee on devolution
will have the British government tripping over
itself to provide the necessary funding.
only minor problem that remains is of the DUP's
own making. Having elevated non-compliance with
the stipulated deadline almost to a point of principle,
some of Paisley's colleagues may want to avoid
embarrassment by stretching negotiations beyond
once, though, the British and Irish governments
seem determined to stand firm on their threat
to collapse the Assembly rather than extend the
deadline. That should be enough to concentrate
minds and ensure that no slippage occurs.
indeed a new executive is formed at the end of
this month, it will then be a question of whether
or not it can endure for any length of time. There
are good grounds for believing that it will not
only endure but, in all likelihood, flourish.
Upon agreeing to enter a powersharing administration,
Paisley and his party will, by the terms of their
own oft-stated requirement, be signalling that
they now consider Sinn Féin to be a fully
would resile from that position and abandon office
only with great reluctance. To do so would be
tantamount to a DUP admission of having made the
same error of judgment in respect of Sinn Féin
bona fides that they had so gleefully accused
David Trimble of making.
regards the actual practicalities of devolution,
frankly, with the sort of bankrolling that both
the DUP and Sinn Féin are demanding, it
would be difficult for them not to make a success
of governing Northern Ireland.
the necessary capital at its disposal, the executive
will be free to tackle a myriad of pressing issues
such as health, education, roads infrastructure,
water and sewerage. At a stroke, and to the delight
of the Northern Ireland electorate, the regional
rate increases and the proposed introduction of
water charges could be scrapped.
or not future DUP and Sinn Féin ministers
will be able to form friendly relationships is
of no consequence.
parties will appreciate that, once partnership
is entered into, it will be in their joint interest
to ensure it doesn't fail. Full knowledge of the
electoral price of collapse will be enough to
ensure that pragmatic working relationships are
it is a matter of concern for some that Sinn Féin
and the DUP might find that they have far more
in common than previously imagined.
is the original champions of a devolved powersharing
Assembly, the SDLP and the UUP, who have real
cause to be concerned about what the future holds.
of those parties are entitled to take seats in
an executive (one SDLP and two UUP), though it
is hardly in either of their long-term interests
to avail of the opportunity.
new administration will be able, at least in its
first term, to indulge the electorate. But it
is only the two major parties, the DUP and Sinn
Féin, who will receive the plaudits. The
SDLP and UUP will certainly have some minimal
influence on collective decision-making but cannot
hope to be credited with any notable achievements.
Indeed, there is no escaping the fact that, to
the public at least, it is Sinn Féin and
the DUP who will constitute the executive.
than clinging to the coat-tails of the two main
parties in the faint hope of benefiting from reflected
glory, it would be much better for the UUP and
SDLP if they relinquished their claims to office
and went into opposition.
the opposition benches and in various Assembly
committees, both parties could play a far more
constructive role by seeking to hold the new administration
to account. Instead of allowing themselves to
be overshadowed to the point where they become
mere pale imitations of the two larger parties,
an oppositional role would help the SDLP and UUP
reclaim their own identities with the electorate.
importantly, by helping to put both a working
government and a meaningful opposition in place,
they would be creating an Assembly that bears
more than just a passing resemblance to an elected
legislature in a normal, liberal democracy.
with permission from the author.