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When No Means Yes

Political journalist and Revolutionary Unionist Dr John Coulter believes the St Andrew’s Agreement not only looks certain to end a generation of sectarian conflict in the North, but also paves the way for a single Unionist Party

 

Dr John Coulter • 15 October 2006

DUP boss is someone who learns from other people's mistakes. That's probably why he did not come home to Ulster waving a copy of the St Andrew's Agreement and uttering the words of the unlucky British Prime Minister of 1939 Neville Chamberlain – Peace in our time!

Within weeks of Chamberlain's prophetic prediction, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany. Listening to Paisley’s post Scotland Press conferences, it is clear the Big Man was correctly read the mood of the vast majority of people in the North who want – Peace in our time.

Indeed, even the new social cancer of racism [and here] in the North can now be tackled head-on as the St Andrew’s Agreement looks a safe bet to produce a return to legislative, power-sharing government in Northern Ireland by 27 March, 2007.

A sequencing of events will take place between now and that date makes perfect political common sense. It will see Sinn Fein, the Provisional IRA’s political wing, recognise the Police Service of Northern Ireland and join the Policing Board, in return for Paisley’s Democratic Unionists agreeing to power-sharing with republicans.

The next key date in this political choreography we should watch with interest will be 24 November when the suspended Stormont Assembly will meet to nominate a First and Deputy First Minister.

Another piece of notable Irish history looms - Paisley will be nominated as First Minister, with Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator Martin McGuinness nominated for the Deputy’s post.

And in January 2007, the Independent Monitoring Commission, which monitors terrorist activity, should set the minds at ease of even the most fundamentalist of Paisley's religious bogmen. The IMC is expected to give the Provisionals a ‘clean bill of health’, signalling a referendum or election in the North to ratify the St Andrew’s Agreement.

However, had Paisley and Sinn Fein not given their blessing to the St Andrew’s Agreement, the London and Dublin governments would have scrapped the Stormont Assembly before Christmas and set the North firmly on the road to joint authority rule between the Dail and Westminster.

In spite of the constant terror threat from dissident republican groups, such as the Continuity and Real IRAs, and political unease within the Hard Right of Paisley’s DUP, the spectre of joint authority has been well and truly exorcised.

Before Christmas, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams is expected to call a special conference to ratify the party’s support for the police. His ability to deliver this shows the continued trust of the majority of grassroots republicans.

Even before October’s so-called ‘hot house’ talks in Scotland, which produced the St Andrew’s Agreement, Paisley was moving tactically to ensure there would be no rebellion from his volatile religious fundamentalist wing.

Forty-eight hours before the Scottish negotiations, Paisley held historic face-to-face talks with Archbishop Sean Brady, the Roman Catholic Primate of Ireland.

Paisley based his strategy on a simple ‘trust me’ mentality, and the religious hardliners duly followed. After 40 years of being branded the Dr No of unionism and religious Protestantism, Paisley had pulled off a coup by demonstrating what he could say ‘yes’ to.

The strength of the St Andrew’s Agreement is that it will be accompanied by a substantial financial package for the North, along with guarantees a restored Executive would have the power to cap rates and protect the North’s elite grammar school system.

This protection of the grammar sector will ensure that, electorally, the DUP will retain the support of the highly influential middle class unionists. It will also put a serious question mark over the future of the Reg Empey-led Ulster Unionist Party.

Under its former leader, the joint Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble, the UUP negotiated the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which established the Stormont Assembly.

However, in the November 2003 Assembly and 2005 General Election, the unionist middle class opted for a ‘Dump Dave’ policy and made the DUP the lead voice for unionism.

Structurally, the St Andrew’s Agreement has also sown the seeds for the creation of a single Unionist Party which would include the DUP, UUP, the revamped Northern Ireland Tories and the right-wing of the Alliance Party.

This Agreement is a triumph for materialism and the concept of ‘money talks’. Unfortunately, racism has become the new sectarianism in the North and recent years have seen a massive jump in the number of racially motivated crimes.

However, a DUP/Sinn Fein power-sharing government will be able to implement a policing strategy which will combat racism ‘on the ground’, especially with the number of migrant workers and asylum seekers expected to grow when Bulgaria, Romania and even Turkey when the join the enlarged European Union.

Over the next few months, certainly until March, spin doctors from the two governments, the DUP and Sinn Fein, will earn their salaries selling the almost universal Scottish 'soft yes' to an agreement on a phased, sequenced deal into a loud, clear YES across the North.

All the main parties – with perhaps the exception of the DUP – would prefer a referendum, especially if the outcome is a higher support among unionists for the St Andrew's Agreement than the UUP-negotiated Belfast Agreement.

The Shinners are shy about a referendum because of the looming Dail elections. The DUP would be enthusiastic about an election because the UUP has nothing to offer the electorate. All its weak C List team brought back from Scotland was a resounding kick up the butt for the party's daft blogging initiative.

If the UUP has to face a March election, the outcome will see its 24 MLAs reduced to 10 or 12. Some pessimists have even suggested it could end up like the Alliance Party with six. The bottom line for Ulster Unionism is – a March election would be fatal.

If the UUP is smart, it will merge with Alliance and the revamped Northern Ireland Tories in a bid to mop up the centre ground. Empey looks certain to face another leadership challenge at the next ruling Ulster Unionist Council meeting – and North Down MLA Alan McFarland's profile seems to be growing by the day.

Overall, Northern Secretary Peter Hain's dogmatic emphasis on the ‘all or nothing deal’ approach by Friday 24 November, otherwise he will permanently axe the Assembly, has certainly paid off. The Unionist family looked over the cliff into the abyss of joint authority, and for once, took the wise decision of backing off, not jumping and getting back on the negotiating trail.

Anyway, it always seemed practically unlikely the Executive could be up and running as a fully devolved legislative parliament by Monday 27 November.

Even as the hours ticked away through the sessions of the three-day Scottish talks, the ‘deal’ always appeared to be an agreement on a sequencing of events in the coming weeks – but after the 24 November deadline.

The final barrier – if it is still a barrier - facing both Sinn Fein and the DUP is still how to sell the deal to their respective supporters without splitting their parties.

Contact between Sinn Fein and the DUP can be maintained through the Paisleyites’ successful meeting Archbishop Brady, who could find himself in a pivotal role as an intermediary between Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley.

The political cherry on the icing for the Paisley camp could be hopes of both a March referendum and an early Stormont election in May 2007.

With the UUP still facing more internal wrangling, the DUP may push to strike while the iron is hot – electorally – and finish the UUP off at the ballot box once and for all. Whenever the election, the Paisley camp goes into it with a firm deal under its belt.

While there has also been much talk about factions within the DUP, the party is likely to remain intact as long as Paisley himself continues as leader.

There are three clear factions in the DUP – the modernisers around deputy leader Peter Robinson; the fundamentalists around South Antrim MP Rev William McCrea, and the traditional hard Right wing supporting MEP Jim Allister.

There has been considerable speculation North Belfast MP and MLA Nigel Dodds is Paisley’s personal choice as his successor.

Paisley Senior will also want to ensure his son, Ian Junior, is in a firm position to hold the party’s Westminster Jewel in the DUP Crown – the North Antrim seat which the father has held comfortably with massive majorities since 1970.

The body language from Scotland was the political jig which Paisley wants to dance to is a deal which will keep his party united, yet finish off the rival UUP at the same time.





 

 


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Index: Current Articles



16 October 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Friday the 13th — The Most Terrifying Deal Ever Done!
Tom Luby

Black Friday
Anthony McIntyre

When No Means Yes
Dr John Coulter

Blowin' In The Wind
John Kennedy

Time to Conclude NI Process
David Adams

Once Bitten
Anthony McIntyre

Dysfunctional Family Values
Mick Hall

Racism: The Social Uniter?
Dr John Coulter

Nobody Home
John Kennedy

'The Revolution is the People'
Jane Horgan-Jones


10 October 2006

Hail The Messiah
Anthony McIntyre

HET: History of Whitewash Continues
Martin Galvin

To Deal or Not
Martin Ingram

One Small Step for Paisley, One Giant Step for Ireland?
Dr John Coulter

The Haunting
John Kennedy

Subversion of an Irish Peace Plan
Brian Wardlow

Working Class Hero
Mick Hall

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 15 - 22
Michael Gillespie

Ryanair
John Kennedy

Racism: The Social Cancer
Dr John Coulter

Forced Out
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters Page Has Been Updated.

 

 

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