Today’s “announcement” of the DUP’s unilateral action in response to the Provisional IRA murder of Kevin McGuigan is a fig leaf- a carefully crafted political ploy to buy time, appease voters and allow the DUP room to manoeuvre out of the corner they have been painted into- by Mike Nesbitt and their own misdemeanour’s in relation to Nama.
The fact is that the Northern Ireland Executive was due to meet only twice in September. On September 9 they were to discuss the Voluntary Exit Scheme- the Secretary of State has helpfully intervened, with remarkably co-incidental timing, to resolve that issue. So therefore nothing will crumble if the Executive don’t meet on the September 9. The next meeting is due on September 24- almost three weeks away.
Peter Robinson added the caveat to his announcement that the DUP weren’t talking months for things to be sorted out. In other words they expect to be back around the Executive table by 24 September. Therefore their refusal to attend Executive meetings really makes little difference at all.
The DUP are stuck between a rock and a hard place. There are major revelations coming as part of the Nama inquiry- revelations that will be politically fatal for the DUP- so collapsing the Assembly is the only method the DUP could use to shut that inquiry down. If, however, they collapse the Assembly then they face an imminent election- and given that at that stage, the DUP will have effectively followed the same path as Mike Nesbitt , despite vehemently condemning the UUP withdrawal from the Executive, then they will appear weak and will be on the back foot to the UUP and the TUV, whose anti-agreement message resonates within Unionist voters more and more by the day.
So the DUP have been painted into a corner. Stay in and Nama is coming hurtling towards them, they will pay for the consequences of that in May’s election. Or walk out, stifle the Nama inquiry and face a snap election on the back foot to not only the pro-agreement UUP but also the anti-agreement TUV.
Throw into the mix Peter Robinson’s planned exit- it is widely accepted that no matter what way the next number of weeks and months play out- his legacy is in tatters. The incoming DUP leadership could be staring into the abyss by the time they take over the party. The only hope then for the DUP is that all the scandal that is about to explode can be pinned on Robinson and the new leadership can present themselves as the new clean face of the DUP.
Robinson also refers within today’s announcement to information not yet in the public domain, in relation to the murder of Kevin McGuigan. This is laying the foundations for tomorrow night’s Spotlight, which will investigate that IRA murder. The programme is likely to heap further pressure on the institutions and provide anti-agreement Unionism with another big stick with which to beat the DUP. Robinson has tried to minimise the effect of this by leaving himself angles to twist and turn when it becomes clear to the wider public- via Spotlight- that he is continuing to sustain the IRA in Government.
The DUP are at sixes and sevens- the Secretary of State has bent over backwards, to suit both the Conservative welfare agenda and the DUP, but more importantly to protect the failed Stormont institutions at all costs. The new round of talks is simply the Governments way of buying Robinson and the DUP time, time to try and find some wriggle room. The British Government are trying to save Robinson just as they tried to save Trimble before him, and not for the first time. Let’s not forget the recently released Hilary Clinton emails which revealed that the then Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, pleaded with Gerry Adams not to put too much pressure on Robinson over the Iris Robinson affair and his dodgy land deals.