Posted By: October 02, 2014

Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, October 1, 2014

WELL it hasn't got off to a very good start, has it? Theresa Villiers made it plain
in her speech to the Conservative party conference that her aim was to persuade
Unionists back to the table. In fact she appealed to Unionists to play ball. "We
urgently need Unionists back round the table to tackle the legacy issues," she said.

It looked as if she was on to a winner when Peter Robinson said the DUP would be
there. "It would be very silly if we weren't there because I was the one who
encouraged her and indeed encouraged the other parties to join in those talks."

Would this be the same Peter Robinson who led his party out of talks on July 3?

It seemed Robinson's notion that he somehow encouraged Villiers wasn't shared in his
party. No sooner had Robinson announced the DUP would be there than Jeffrey
Donaldson popped up on the radio to say no, there would have to be a resolution to
the Ardoyne impasse before talks on anything else.

So very quickly we come to the crux of the matter. Robinson is a lame duck leader.
Even if talks were successful, and they won't be, Robinson can't deliver. Indeed as
Sinn Féin said a year ago, Robinson couldn't deliver a bottle of milk. His party's
split and the skids are under him. Jeffrey Donaldson has form [experience/expertise]
on undermining his party leader [ as he did to David Trimble] and when the likes of
Donaldson, a johnny-come-lately into the DUP, has the nerve to defy Robinson you
know it's now only a matter of time before Robinson goes.

We know there was a party row on the evening of September 22 when Robinson brought
up Villiers's proposal for talks. Several MLAs refused to consider talks,  and
Robinson sacked some of his opponents next day. They're still MLAs and they're still
opposed to talks. So are some of the MPs who as a group are even more extreme than
the MLAs.

Ultimately responsibility for this situation lies at the feet of our clueless
proconsul. There wasn't a syllable in her vapid speech last Sunday that couldn't
have been uttered this time last year in the aftermath of a horrendous nine months
of Unionist rioting and attacks on the police. Instead she did nothing.

Our proconsul literally watched in 2013 while Belfast burned.

Anyone with a titter of wit could see that the Haass talks were going nowhere
without input from both governments and it's not as if she wasn't told so at the
time. Now a year later positions are more deeply entrenched and a general election
looms in eight months. The DUP has in the meantime been badly spooked by the
European and council election results.

The Paisleyite wing of the party - the stupider wing by a long chalk - is making the
classic political mistake of believing that they will win more votes by sounding and
acting more like their bitterest enemies. That's why some of them idiotically leak
reports of party meetings to semi-literate flag protestors - to suck up to people
who would destroy them.

What Sinn Féin has to consider in these circumstances is whether it's worth shoring
up Robinson against the anti-agreement coalition that is building in unionism aided
by our proconsul's inaction in the past year. Do they make concessions to Robinson's
beleaguered supporters in the DUP only to find that Robinson can't deliver even with
republican concessions? Or do they wait until the turmoil in unionism has settled
and enter talks with a new leader and a realigned unionism?

Adams and McGuinness have been here before. They split and destroyed the UUP when
its leader, besieged by disloyal Donaldson, couldn't deliver. Even Adams and
McGuinness could hardly have foreseen that 10 years later they have a distinct
chance of splitting the DUP.

Don't forget what that means. If and when the DUP splits and some join the TUV to
save their assembly seats, then without a shadow of a doubt Sinn Féin becomes the
largest party in the north and Martin McGuinness first minister.

Of course as Peter Robinson has pointed out, his opponents are too stupid to see
that. Then again they don't care because they won't be sharing power.