THE POLITICAL NOW IS A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE FOR THE DUP: They need to wake up and smell the coffee – By Brian Rowan

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No negotiation passes without a difficult moment.

So, we should not be shocked by Thursday’s developments in the Stormont talks; that two governments and four parties were pushing for a pre-Christmas agreement, and that the DUP applied the brakes and then accused London and Dublin of trying to bounce them.

Secretary of State Julian Smith and Tanaiste Simon Coveney have a text – as a basis for a deal – that they were ready to publish in an effort  to have the institutions back in place by Monday.

Inside the talks, on Wednesday evening, there were the first indications of the DUP slowing things down; not yet ready and needing more time to achieve a deal that in their terms is fair – that will last and is sustainable.

More time won’t make this any easier, nor will it alter in any significant way the text that is there or the deadline of January 13th to get this done.

What was obvious on Thursday is that the days of confidence and supply and influence are history. The political now is a very different place for the DUP.

They were publicly named as the party holding things up.

Smith and Coveney are running this negotiation; the Northern Ireland Office no longer a hostage to that Tory-DUP Westminster arrangement that evaporated and disappeared with the Boris Johnson run-away election victory.

If I am reading him correctly, the Secretary of State has no interest in the elastic deadlines that have been a feature of the long and protracted negotiations since the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister in January 2017.

If this negotiation fails – if the DUP cannot get over the line – then there will be an Assembly election.

Simon Coveney arrived in these talks in the summer of 2017 as an impressive new voice. Julian Smith brings similar qualities.

He believes the ingredients are there for a deal, including addressing the health crisis.

So, he has no intention of letting these talks run and run until they hit another brick wall.

Early in the New Year, he will want an answer from the DUP; a party described by one source as being “deeply traumatised” about what happened to them electorally and what happened to Nigel [Dodds].

There is a view that they will have difficulties with their base on matters such as Irish language and vetoes.

On Wednesday, I chatted with the Sky News correspondent David Blevins in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings.

I, like many other journalists, recognised a different tone around these talks – more serious, more optimistic, but I spoke with him about a trend and a pattern; Arlene Foster and Jeffrey Donaldson walking away on Good Friday 1998, the tweet that ended the February 2018 negotiation when there was a draft agreement, the DUP in Brexit talks until the last minute when Johnson left them at the altar and drew his borders in the Irish Sea.

They suffer from ‘last-minute-itis’.

I am pretty sure I put it more bluntly in that conversation with Blevins, and here we are again; but, this time, it is different, because Smith is different.

The DUP having lost Westminster is in danger of losing Stormont.

They overplayed their hand in the Brexit negotiations, and they should not repeat that mistake.


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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process and contributed chapters to 'Reporting the Troubles' and 'Brexit and Northern Ireland: Bordering on Confusion'.

3 Comments

  1. Gearoid Mac Siacais on

    ECHOES OF 1642.
    Arlene and Nigel are on the cusp of a 1642 moment. Project fear in winter 1641 seen the British House of Chaos divided 52 to 48% for and against the soon to be headless Charles I. His deadline was January 12th 1642. ARLENE and Nigel’s deadline is January 13th. Oh the sweet irony ‘the kingdom’ and now its little adjunct once again in great peril and dithering is the DUP’s only answer.
    Time to wheel out the Apprentice Boys perhaps, like the Puritans did in that bleak winter 378 years ago. Someone’s head will roll.

  2. I’m not entirely convinced that the analogy of the English Civil War works, but if we could figure out who the DUP actually are there might be some milage in it.

    They no longer seem to be the party of Paisley; the ‘leaders’ (if that is not to strong a word) in Northern Ireland and Westminster are ex UUP and one can only wonder what the ‘old’ DUP think of that; the ‘Puritans’ seem to have opted for ‘Church’ over ‘State’; and they’re not exactly ‘secular’, but neither are they ‘religious.

    The campaign to be the largest Unionist Party has succeeded only in confusing the unionist vote; centring their attempts at developing power and influence in Westminster contradicts their devolutionist history; and one might even think that the Conservative Party might seek a kind of revenge for being held on a DUP leash – they’re certainty not going out of their way to support NI’s place in the Union–which is a dilemma for a unionist who wants to remain loyal.

    Is it possible, therefore, that the DUP’s greatest problem is not Brexit, a United Ireland, the SNP or NI’s ‘remain’ vote, but that the DUP no longer know who they are?

    And to return to the Civil War, then, perhaps the greatest comparative irony with our current circumstances is that the only time England (the ‘UK’) was a Republic was when it was ruled by the Protestant Puritans.

  3. Gearoid Mac Siacais on

    The DUP are, of course, the deluded Charles with their ‘divine right’ to rule. His deadline with Pimm was January 12th theirs with Coveny and co is January 13th. The irony is that the travails of 1641 with a British Parliament divided 48 to 52 % led to the Civil War, the travails of 2019 and the DUP’s hubristic and monumental miscalculation has led them to their Role of preceipitating the road to Irish unity and the breakup of their United Kingdom.

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