From this week’s Irish World:
No guns – no government. That has been the axiom around which peace process politics has revolved for the past seven years.
Not any more. The IRA’s guns are out of the equation and a return to devolved Government is now firmly on the agenda.
The DUP claims to be a devolutionist party, but it has qualified that stance heavily in recent months.
“The Secretary of State should be aware that of all the political parties in Northern Ireland, the DUP needs devolution the least,” Ian Paisley claimed in August.
“Whilst we have no control over many decisions that the Government takes, we do have a veto on the return of devolution. The Government may wish to avoid dealing with the DUP in taking its decisions, but there are some things they cannot do without the support of the unionist community. We alone will dictate when we enter negotiations with the Government about devolution. We alone will dictate when, if ever, we enter discussions with Sinn Fein and we alone will dictate when, if ever, and in what circumstances, we enter an administration with Sinn Fein. There is a price which we are not prepared to pay for the return of devolution.”
It clear from this statement that devolution is a bargaining chip which the DUP will attempt to exploit for maximum concessions, in much the same way that republicans used decommissioning.
The DUP, like Sinn Fein, are well aware of Willie Walshe’s dictum that “the reasonable man gets nowhere in negotiations,” and Ian Paisley can do a pretty good impression of an unreasonable man.
The DUP wishlist will only lengthen between now and January, but the party must be aware that the British and Irish Governments will apply the stick as well as the carrot to achieve devolution, as they did with decommissioning.
Veteran civil rights activist Eamonn McCann suggested recently that “It is now the main perspective of a growing tendency within Nationalism that a united Ireland can best and maybe only be brought about by England hammering the Prods.”
That might not be constructive or desirable, but it is inevitable that if the DUP stalls on devolution, there will be an incentive to make direct rule uncomfortable for unionists.
Indeed this may already be happening. The Financial Times reported last week that there is increasing pressure from the Treasury for Northern Ireland to ‘pay its way’ and spending cuts could be in the pipeline.
There may well be a particular incentive for the Treasury to squeeze Northern Ireland. Gordon Brown wants to be Prime Minister, and as a Scottish MP he will be acutely aware of the need to minimize English resentment of the political and economic imbalances within the UK.
The £8 billion subvention to Northern Ireland is a glaring example of just such an imbalance, and will be an easy target if local politicians refuse to take responsibility for their own destiny. Dependency may no longer be a viable alternative to democracy.