In my opinion column for the Irish World this week, I wrote that the DUP would try to avoid compulsory power-sharing and that they would hope for a hung Parliament at Westminster to facilitate this.
Events since seem to have borne this analysis out. DUP Deputy Leader Peter Robinson had this to say yesterday:
"The option of a voluntary coalition is open to the SDLP and while they are playing coy now, perhaps after the election, when their bravado is tempered by the electorate`s response, a higher level of reality might cause a rethink.
"If, however, Mark Durkan wants to force terrorists and criminals into government there will be no devolution.
"That deal is dead Mark, and you know it.
"Follow that strategy Mark, and you will deprive a whole community of devolved government. You will also be ensuring that the only achievable and attainable strategy for unionists to follow will be to improve the accountability and acceptability of Direct Rule by integrating Northern Ireland more closely and seamlessly into the Westminster structures."
SDLP leader Durkan has ruled out the voluntary coalition option:
He told DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson, who also mooted talks with the SDLP after May 5: "Peter, you might have been able to negotiate a new British exclusion law and a version of voluntary coalition with Sinn Fein in your December deal, but you will never get the SDLP to break the Agreement, and you know it."
If the SDLP position remains the same, the DUP will be pushing for ‘improved’ direct rule, which also happens to be an option in the Tory manifesto.
No wonder unionists are looking to the possibility of a hung Parliament.
Rival unionist candidates last night both hung out the prospect of a hung Parliament strengthening unionism’s hand in post-election negotiations.
The DUP’s Rev William McCrea and Ulster Unionist David Burnside – battling it out against each other in South Antrim – both believe a significantly reduced Labour majority is a real possibility after May 5.
Despite the evidence of most recent nationalist polls, they argue Labour might not have an overrall in the House of Commons working majority.
Perhaps Burnside and McCrea should consider what a hung Parliament might mean for the wider United Kingdom. In any case, it’s looking an increasingly unlikely outcome this time around, which is just as well for the future of the Good Friday Agreement.