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Timetable for Change


A timetable for change could see nationalism running the North within five years

Dr John Coulter • 27 November 2005

Unionism used to boast the mathematical maxim – six into 26 won't go; a reference the six counties of Northern Ireland would never join the 26 of the Irish Republic.

However, following the Tony Blair administration's announcement of local government reform in the North, nationalists can confidently adopt their own new mathematical maxim – seven into 32 will come!

Structurally, the North will come under republican political control well within a decade because of the British Government's radical reductions in the number of local councils.

Under the reform of public administration, Blair has slashed councils from 26 to seven and within a few years, four will have republican majorities.

Boundary changes for the new super councils will leave unionists in the political minority for the first time since the creation of the Northern state in 1920.

Similarly, the Dublin and London governments will move in the first half of 2006 to pull the rug from underneath the DUP's feet on Paisleyite excuses not to do a deal with Sinn Fein.

With the DUP attempting to stall the process for at least another year, such actions could bring the rival Sir Reg Empey-led Ulster Unionists back into favour with Downing Street, even though the party has only one Westminster MP.

IRA decommissioning is now a beaten docket with the unionist parties and the new political buzz 'D' word is 'Decisions'. Paisleyism came within a hair's breadth of being in legislative government with Sinn Fein in November 2004.

However, given the DUP's voting record at Westminster since its General Election trouncing of the UUP, there is a view the Paisleyites are simply not up for a deal – and that the centre parties got a raw deal out of the elections.

The political migraine facing Blair – or even his expected successor tough-talking Scot Gordon Brown – is that if he reaches June 2006 and there have been at least three independent monitoring commission reports giving the Provos a clean bill of health on decommissioning and criminality, what does he do if Paisley still won't talk to Sinn Fein?

Blair's option is to recall the suspended Northern Assembly himself and give the 108 MLAs six weeks to form a power-sharing government.

If this can't be done, there will automatically be elections to a new Assembly, and if there are still no moves to create a legislative parliament, Blair will shut Stormont permanently and deal directly with the Dail.

Sinn Fein's current political dancing indicates a shift in emphasis from an internal Northern settlement to an external Southern solution coming from the expected May 2007 Dail General Election.

Even middle of the road unionists like Empey predict Sinn Fein will clinch up to 12 seats in any new Dail, mostly at the expense of Bertie Ahern's Fianna Fail coalition government.

In Ahern's own Dublin constituency, it is an open secret Sinn Fein plans to parachute in leading MEP Mary-Lou McDonald to take out the Taioseach's running mate.

Ahern may have said now he'll not form any coalition government with Sinn Fein, but a 12-seat republican power bloc would still be highly influential. Even if it was not a coalition partner, Sinn Fein could still be in a position to prop up any Dail government.

Sinn Fein has already abandoned its abstentionist policy on the Dail. Maybe a trade-off might be seats in a coalition government with Fianna Fail in exchange for scrapping the abstentionist policy on Westminster seats?

UUP strategists attempting to rebuild the party under Empey have concluded the Blair administration has fallen out badly with the DUP. Blair simply wants a unionist party that will negotiate with republicans, even if it only has one Commons seat.

Blair has not forgotten the DUP's strange decision to vote against his 90-day holding clause in the new British terror bill. The UUP is offering an 'up close and personal' approach compared to Paisley's life-long megaphone diplomacy tactic.

The UUP under former boss David Trimble built up considerable negotiating expertise in spite of the cost being a meltdown in the May's Westminster and council elections.

Even if Paisley succeeds in stalling the peace process, the UUP has conceived a Plan B using the Assembly to kickstart talks, but avoiding the pitfall of Stormont being an expensive multi-million pound talking shop.

The UUP does not want a repeat of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement when the Tory Government under Premier Maggie Thatcher snubbed unionism and signed a deal with Dublin.

The first the UUP knew the contents of the Dublin Accord was when the Press passed a copy of the document through the railings at Hillsborough Castle to the late Upper Bann MP Harold McCusker.

East Belfast MLA and former Lord Mayor Empey has described the '85 Accord as unionism's “biggest comeupins”. The UUP views Paisley's demand for a two-year decontamination period for the Provos as simply “dancing around the issue” of forging a deal with republicans.

The Ulster Unionists believe Paisley himself is fighting a different battle to the rest of his party. As Moderator of his fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church since its formation in 1952, Paisley's primary battle is against the Church of Rome – and he views republicanism as a tentacle of Rome.

However, the UUP believes this is not the case for the DUP's deputy leader Peter Robinson or even former UUP politician Jeffrey Donaldson, now the Lagan Valley DUP MP and MLA.

The big question the diehard fundamentalists are asking – will Ian Paisley's legacy be a photo of him as First Minister shaking hands with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister in a legislative power-sharing Executive at Stormont?

Even those within the UUP who believe Blair will try and get the DUP off the present political hook by offering a massive redundancy package to Royal Irish Regiment soldiers are becoming a tiny minority.

Paisley must face a bitter reality that a political alarm clock will start ringing in June 2006 if a third successive monitoring commission gives the IRA an 'all clear'. In that month, no matter how loud the DUP rhetoric, Paisley will be bluntly told by Blair – put up or push off!



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Index: Current Articles

24 December 2005

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Anthony McIntyre

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Defeating the Enemy Within
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SF Tinker, Tailor Their Spy Story
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Language: The Means of Creating Realities
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Mebyon Kernow & Cornish Nationalism
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Timetable for Change
Dr John Coulter

CRJ — New Name for the IRA?
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GEM, A Story of Global Exploitation and Misery
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First International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners and POWs
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Dr John Coulter

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To Go On: Irish Travellers meet Academia
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Genius decommissioned while Stupid keeps the guns
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Cut Off Aid to Regime in Uganda
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Sticks and Stones
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