Resignations create maximum drama but have few practical implications

Posted By: September 11, 2015

John Manley.Irish News ( Belfast). Friday, September 11, 2015

All the portents indicated that Stormont was doomed and that the DUP would pull the plug on devolution just ahead of the teatime news.

But in a move that surprised the pundits and left most of them scratching their heads, Peter Robinson pulled not a rabbit from the hat but an extraordinary creature we’d never seen before.

He revealed that all the DUP ministers bar his trusted lieutenant Arlene Foster would walk out of the executive.

The finance minister, widely tipped to succeed Mr Robinson when he finally goes, will also act as an interim first minister, although it is notable that the DUP leader has stepped aside rather than resign.

It seems the Fermanagh-South Tyrone MLA will keep her hand on the purse strings to prevent republicans and nationalists using this period of limbo to lavish money on projects her party regards as unworthy.

The DUP ministerial resignations appear to be is a symbolic gesture designed to create maximum drama, while having little immediate and substantive impact.

On paper, ministers resigning looks like a big deal but walking away from an executive that is increasingly dysfunctional and fast running out of cash is unlikely to have many practical implications. The political fall out, however, could be serious yet that depends on where the process goes in the coming days and weeks.

It has become apparent over recent days that Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and David Cameron, with support of the Dublin government, would not accede to the DUP’s demand for suspension.

Mr Robinson’s options were further narrowed yesterday afternoon when in the face of mounting pressure, the SDLP stood its ground and refused to vote for an assembly adjournment.

The DUP strategy, if worthy of the name, was cooked up over a few hours and once again buys time for Mr Robinson and the institutions, while ensuring that in the

short term at least he avoids what is shaping up to be the toughest electoral battle his party has faced for well over a decade.

Mike Nesbitt may have been vilified by nationalists in recent days for scaling up the crisis and calling for unreasonable preconditions before entering talks, but he has outflanked Peter Robinson and hopes to channel the general frustration with Stormont into popular unionist support.

When the dust settles and Bobby Storey, following his unconditional release last night, returns to his office in Parliament Buildings, everybody bar the UUP is expected to return to Stormont House next week and continue with the fresh round of talks.

It was always necessary that these negotiations succeeded if the institutions were to prevail so while acrimony and recrimination may have increased, little about the substantive circumstances has actually changed.