Saturday, 23 January 2010

Why Ulster Unionists should not give in to DUP manipulation

At St Andrews the DUP insisted on an amendment to the 1998 Belfast Agreement that provided that the leader of the largest party at Stormont was to be the First Minister.

This was no gaffe. It was a deliberate ploy to be used in the very situation we now find ourselves.

And we are in danger of falling for it.

The prospect of a Sinn Fein First Minister would be tough for the Unionist electorate. The DUP have used this spectre in the past to blackmail the electorate into voting for them.
Now that their star is waning, and Unionism may be split three ways, they are using the same argument to try and do a deal with us so that they can hold on to something.

It is against this background that we should look at the private Hatfield House talks last weekend.

A week ago the Ulster Unionists were on a roll; the DUP in disarray over Robinsonsgate and a decisive by-election win with 64% of the vote in Lurgan, following on from a great result in the European poll earlier in the year.

Now there is angst amongst some in our party that if we fight an Assembly election and beat the DUP we will be a smaller party than Sinn Fein. The prospect of being deputy to Martin McGuinness is not palatable.

The DUP are in big trouble; they want to save their skins by destabilising our deal with the Conservatives. Shoring up their own supporters with talks of electoral pacts to save Robinson's skin is how they hope to survive intact.

But when have the DUP ever shown any concern for the common good; their tactics over the years have always been to predict doom and gloom if the electorate follows us, and then, when they achieve power to steal our clothes. They are at the same game today - remember how they wanted to do a deal with Cameron - but he wouldn't have them.

If, in an Assembly election, we were to end up the largest unionist party, with Sinn Fein as the largest party overall, what might happen? If we were unable to form an executive, another election would be triggered. The electorate’s minds might be concentrated by that; and a second Assembly election in short order would give unionist voters the chance to sort things out.


  1. The DUP are going to get what's coming to them as long as the UUP choose not to throw them a lifeline.

    When it comes to SF becoming the biggest party in the Assembly the UUP ought to state that it isn't interested in the post of DFM, but will not stand in the way of the DUP, who created the current system, taking the DFM post.

    They made their bed and now they must lie in it.

  2. Daphne,

    I'm going to ask the naive question ... why is "the prospect of being deputy to Martin McGuinness is not palatable"?

    If the two positions are truly co-equal - and we see plenty of evidence for the power of veto over executive business - then the only difference is that the largest party doesn't get the extra word "deputy" stuck in front of "First Minister".

    So what would be so bad about any unionist party respecting mathematics and showing leadership by appointing a deputy first minister if they were numerically smaller than Sinn Fein (or the SDLP if it came to that!)

    Surely it's time for the I-want-to-be-bigger-than-you political games to end, and for politicians on all side to show leadership, and commitment to making institutions work the way they were set up and agreed upon?

    My five year old is slowly learning that you don't *have* to win at every game. Maybe I could send her round to pass the message on to some politicians?