Stand-off at Stormont

Tom Griffin
3 June 2008

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The Leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin are meeting Gordon Brown at Downing Street today amid signs that Peter Robinson's planned nomination as First Minister on Thursday may not be the formality that had been expected.

It looks as if Sinn Féin are taking the opportunity to try and redress the pattern identified by Robin Wilson in a presentation to the Constitution Unit last month:

"Whether it is the devolution of policing and justice (was due, according to St Andrews, in May), legislation on the Irish language (was due before devolution was even established), a new sports stadium plus 'conflict transformation centre' (aka 'terrorist shrine', according to the DUP) at the old Maze prison, or the abolition of the '11+' transfer test (this by far the most relevant to the public at large), the Catholic parties have played the role of demandeurs. And the DUP has answered, respectively: not till the IRA army council disbands, confined to the 'dustbin', too expensive, and the minister is 'living in cloud-cuckoo land'."

A statement issued by Gerry Adams yesterday did nothing to dampen speculation that Sinn Féin may refuse to nominate Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister, potentially precipitating an election. Slugger's Belfast Gonzo thinks the suggestion is a desperate bluff, but the BBC's Martina Purdy suggests a distinctly cogent logic for it:

"Of course there are risks involved in playing this game.

Geoge W Bush might cancel his trip to Stormont.

That is more likely to annoy the DUP than the republicans. In fact their grassroots will probably cheer.

Sinn Fein has conceded some of its holy grails to achieve power-sharing and north-south cooperation.

And forcing a crisis could put this in danger and delay power-sharing
for years to come with the prospect of a dangerous vacuum opening up.

On the other hand, it reopens negotiations. Does Sinn Fein think it can do better? Is it addicted to negotiatiing?

Whatever the truth, the question for Sinn Fein is - does it have more to gain or more to lose?

If nothing else, this question must surely be concentrating minds in the DUP leadership.

And even if it is all a bluff and Sinn Fein ends up nominating, it may
have taught the DUP a valuable lesson: there are consequences for
saying No.

If there is no nomination on Thursday, the parties will have a week's grace before the Northern Ireland Secretary would have to step in. That could see a crisis overlapping with the DUP's decision on how to vote on 42 days. In an interview with the BBC's Mark Devenport (hat-tip Slugger), Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy suggests a deal is likely to be cobbled together before then

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