Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Dermot Ahern raises the stakes

Don't blink, Dermot It is clear that right now in the north of Ireland we are experiencing a tense stand-off between the Irish and British governments and Ian Paisley's DUP. Back in February I posted my thoughts on the matter and I stated that the current situation was akin to a game of poker. I stated that while the DUP think they have all the right cards, the two governments need to call their bluff and that they have just the card to use. I outlined what this was:

"The situation in the North has become a game of poker and the stakes are high. Paisley and his merry band of minions think they have the governments beaten and that they have the people silenced but Joint Authority is a winning hand."

Joint Authority. Yes, that is the card that has not been played. Well, until now that is...

"The tiller of power"

As the Belfast Telegraph reports, the DUP have responded angrily to a suggestion by Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern that Dublin and London take "the tiller of power" in the north of Ireland if local parties can't agree on power-sharing.

Mr Ahern said that in the absence of agreement between local politicians over an Assembly the two governments would have to "step in" and make an "inter-govenmental approach" to decisions. While it was not an open or hostile threat to the DUP, the message was quite clear:

"It's probably not the preferred option."

"We would far rather that people from Northern Ireland have their hand on the tiller of power but if they decide not to want that then the two Governments would have to step in and take decisions and people from Northern Ireland and their representatives won't really have any great say in that respect and that is unfortunate."

The stakes have obviously been raised. The Irish and British governments have wisely cottoned on to the fact that this is their only shot at beating the DUP rejectionists. And as the Belfast Telegraph stressed, "Mr Ahern's remarks are being interpreted as an indication of the outline of proposals being considered by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair". Things just got interesting!

"ill judged remarks"

However in a game with such high stakes, bluffing is bound to occur and the DUP's Peter Robinson has unsurprisingly called the two government's bluff:

"These are ill judged remarks from the Irish Foreign Minister.

"He says he is trying to push the process forward, so for his Government to attempt to tell Unionists what to do, or else, is foolish.

"He and Bertie Ahern are hardly in a strong position to recommend that unionists should embrace arrangements for government with Sinn Fein that they themselves won't touch.

"It's the Irish Government that has been telling Sinn Fein that it isn't fit for Government in the Republic and telling Gerry Adams that his party can forget about any coalition with Fianna Fail."

Robinson has his game face on

A hackneyed response from Robinson it has to be said. As has been pointed out in the past by Irish Ministers, coalition governments in the South are negotiated. Fianna Fáil and the PDs are in power because they came to that arrangement. However it is a mandatory requirement in NI for the two largest parties to work together. It is a different kettle of fish altogether. Robinson is fronting a cool exterior at this point but I think he and his party will be a little bit alarmed by this. I think the DUP's feathers have been ruffled by Mr Ahern's comments.

'Joint Authority' itself is a vague proposition. It is perhaps more significant in theory than it would be in reality. It could simply involve the British government implementing outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement with the Irish government being given a consultative role. Still, it is the what the term conjures up in the minds of the DUP that matters most.

I think Dermot Ahern has done well here. I think it's a smart idea to propagate vague and unspecified notions of "inter-governmental approaches". The desire is not for Joint Authority after all but for a restoration of the Assembly, and so right now the threat of Joint Authority is what matters more than any serious attempt to implement it. Let it be an unclear but potent Plan B, lurking ever ominously in the background.

Dermot Ahern has raised the stakes and for that he should be commended, however the stand-off is ongoing. If he blinks first, he's out.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

© 2008 United Irelander.