DUP arrogance could precipitate election

Posted By: January 04, 2017

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, January 4, 2017

On January 16, MLAs return to Stormont after a month’s break, many of them fat and tanned from winter sun holidays at your expense. Are they ready to vote themselves out of existence? From the noises of the party leaders, other than the DUP, it seems so.

For Sinn Féin,  Monday week is make or break time. From the language of Matt Carthy MEP on Sunday past, and Declan Kearney on Monday it seems the DUP may have overstepped the mark. Or have they? On December 18 Martin McGuinness warned the DUP and specifically Arlene Foster that if she made a statement purporting to speak as first minister there would be ‘grave consequences’. She did and there weren’t. He advised her to stand aside for a fixed period as her predecessor Robinson did more than once. She rebuffed him. ‘Grave consequences’ have now been downgraded in McGuinness’s New Year message to a ‘serious crisis’.

Sinn Féin’s motion to the assembly on Monday week will top the agenda. They will repeat their demand for Foster to stand aside pending the outcome of an inquiry. Other party leaders have called for her to resign full stop. That doesn’t matter. She can bat them aside with the customary sneer she reserves for Eastwood or Nesbitt.

Only Sinn Féin can pull the rug. The question is if Foster ignores their demand, will they? If they don’t, they’ll suffer ridicule which no party can afford, least of all Sinn Féin. The DUP, completely ignorant of Nationalist sensibilities, have no idea that, as Declan Kearney said in his statement on Monday, they are heading towards ‘an unprecedented tipping point’.

Curiously what caused that wasn’t the arrogance at the assembly shambles on December 19 but the stupidly provocative withdrawal of £50,000 for Gaeltacht grants. That and not the “cash for ash” scandal was the first point in Kearney’s An Phoblacht article: ‘it is not acceptable for [the DUP] to continue opposing parity of esteem for the Irish language and Irish identity’. That was also the first example Matt Carthy gave in his speech on Sunday. ‘We will not sign up for the denial of Irish language rights.’

Paul Givan’s idiotic decision enraged Nationalists for a number of reasons. First, the sleekit [sly/deceitful] manner in which it was done. Secondly, the insultingly paltry sum involved compared to the six-figure sum handed out to loyalist bands. Third the fact that some loyalist bands are training grounds for paramilitary recruits and also that they have been in the forefront of flouting Parades Commission determinations.

All of which convinced nationalists that it is a provocation intended to tweak Sinn Féin’s nose, daring them to do something. It’s just the sort of irresponsible act a political twit like Givan carries out reckless of the consequences.

The serious crisis Sinn Féin figures like McGuinness, Kearney and Carthy refer to is that if the DUP do not respond with some compromise before Monday week,  the only action Sinn Féin can take without a major loss of face is to collapse the executive.That will mean an election in which Foster may lose a couple of seats to the UUP but still return as the largest party.

However, according to the calculations of Nicholas Whyte, the north’s foremost psephologist, the DUP and Sinn Féin will lose five seats apiece in an election to the smaller 90 seat assembly. Would Foster’s MLAs thank her for her obstinacy in that event? Would Sinn Féin get the blame for precipitating an election? Do they want to make five of their MLAs redundant?

No doubt there will be frantic tic-tacking behind the scenes between Sinn Féin and the DUP in the course of the next ten days to avoid such an outcome. In the end, of course, it’s down to Foster,  and there’s the rub.

Her leadership of the DUP has been intensely personalized,  so for her to stand aside would be to admit failure. On the other hand, it’s going to be impossible to avoid some form of inquiry which incredibly Sinn Féin are content not to be public. That inquiry will inevitably find Foster has feet of clay. Will Monday week find Sinn Féin is a paper tiger?