of the St Andrews Agreement in Ian Paisley's DUP
and Reg Empey's Ulster Unionists look likely to
form an election pact to outgun the threat from
anti-deal dissident unionists.
seems certain the Northern electorate will be
able to deliver their verdict on the Scottish
Agreement with an Assembly election on Wednesday
7 March, 2007 with all 108 Stormont seats up for
political brinkmanship the order of the day, the
countdown is also well underway to the so called
Super Friday 24 November the date
Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness have
to be nominated as First and Deputy First Minister
to a 'shadow' Assembly.
Secretary Peter Hain has already strongly 'marked
the cards' of the political parties by emphasising
the choice on Super Friday is between devolution
Assembly will be axed within days if the parties
fail to nominate, paving the way for joint authority
of the North by Dublin and London.
some Unionist sources were also indicating Hain
could be persuaded to extend the deadline into
early December if a planned Sinn Fein ard fheis
could guarantee republican support for policing.
the sources were also suggesting the DUP chief
will play political hardball, both with Sinn Fein
for a pro-PSNI strategy as well as go head-to-head
with dissidents within his own camp. In spite
of the increase in scepticism from the DUP, Paisley
is still expected to be nominated as First Minister.
in spite of repeated electoral batterings from
the Paisley camp since the turn of the new millennium,
the Ulster Unionists are now at their most united
as a party since the David Trimble era talks which
produced the original Good Friday Agreement in
reliable Unionist sources said the UUP's three
consultation meetings in Belfast, Ballymena and
Dungannon were very tame affairs compared
with similar reportedly hot tempered meetings
of the DUP's grassroots.
has been also suggested a DUP consultation meeting
in Lurgan showed 90 delegates in favour of accepting
St Andrews, 40 against with another 40 abstentions.
This has fuelled persistent rumours the Paisley
camp is divided almost 50/50 with the pro-deal
supporters around party boss Paisley Senior, and
supposed dissidents backing popular MEP Jim Allister.
sources claimed there had already been private
talks aimed at re-establishing the 1970s-style
United Ulster Unionist Council, or Unionist Coalition,
to field agreed pro-deal candidates in future
Assembly and Westminster elections.
Unionists have already threatened to run candidates
under the banner of North Down barrister and MLA
Robert McCartney's fringe United Kingdom Unionist
have even been allegations Paisley Senior's nomination
on 24 November could trigger resignations from
the DUP on a scale experienced during the walkout
by UUP dissidents loyal to the Lagan Valley MP
Jeffrey Donaldson during his long-running battle
have also been suggestions Allister could quit
the DUP and establish a Right-wing, anti-deal
grassroots Unionist party along with McCartney.
It has also been alleged Newry and Armagh Independent
Unionist MLA Paul Berry could be asked to join
the new anti-deal coalition.
Unionist sources also claimed the UUP was "highly
unlikely" to entertain the prospect of a
'what we have, we hold' electoral pact with the
Paisleyites. The sources suggested a pro-deal
coalition would only be formed on a 50/50 seat
basis, which would mean the DUP having to give
up some of its Westminster seats to the Ulster
present, Unionist hold 10 of the North's 18 Commons
seats. The DUP has nine, the UUP one. Agreed single
Unionist candidates could see two further seats
South Belfast, and Fermanagh/South Tyrone
return to Unionist control, giving a supposed
pro-deal Unionist alliance of a dozen seats.
this would mean six seats going to the Paisley
camp, with the UUP taking the remaining half-dozen.
In practical terms, the DUP would have to give
up three seats.
the Assembly, the sources claimed the long-term
aim of any pro-deal pact would be to amass 70
of the present 108 seats, there by paving the
way for a possible return of majority rule Unionist
government in the North.
situation has not existed since the original Stormont
Parliament was axed in March 1972. The source
claimed 70 seats had been identified where agreed
pro-deal Unionist candidates could win
35 to the DUP, 35 to the UUP.
it was also suggested a formal merger of the two
parties would not occur under the current Paisley
leadership. At this point, the best which could
be hoped for was agreed pro-deal coalition candidates,
the sources said.
sources also indicated David Ervine of the Progressive
Unionists, the party aligned to the UVF and Red
Hand Commando, would have to run as an agreed
UUP candidate and the PUP would have to be dissolved.
70-seat Assembly pact also works on the assumption
dissident Unionists or the revamped Northern Tories
would not field candidates, thereby splitting
the pro-Union vote.
Dr John Coulter's If
You Ask Me from this week's BBC Hearts &