Paisley's about-face has faithful still in shock
Bertie Ahern told his mini ard fheis that the St Andrews Agreement has to be signed off on Friday "if the November 24 deadline is to be met".
The Sinn Féin ard chomhairle has given its go-ahead, deciding to "follow the course set out in the agreement".
So what will the DUP do?
All the indications are that Paisley will say 'yes, but, if' and try to wring a long list of concessions out of the British government on the mechanisms for operating the agreement if it becomes fully functioning next March 26.
It's going to be great fun watching him turning and twisting and wriggling while claiming great victories over republicans. He has to make those claims of course, because his about-face has been so sudden many of the faithful are still in shock.
Here's a man who built a career out of sulphurous anti-Catholic speeches and hawking scurrilous anti-Catholic rags on street corners in loyalist districts, yet is now happy to sit down with the Pope's main man in Ireland.
He leads a party which many of its members joined because Paisley's foul anti-Catholicism chimed with their own bigotry and ethnic fear and loathing of northern nationalists.
Many people voted for him secure in the knowledge that he would never share power with republicans, let alone agree to all-Ireland institutions.
Yet he didn't denounce the concept at St Andrews. On the contrary, he said he'd go along with it if certain conditions are fulfilled. They will be.
There has been no education process in his party. The ground has not been prepared as Sinn Féin's leaders prepared republicans slowly and carefully over years, losing some by the wayside.
As a result, Paisley's lieutenants are still using the rhetoric of hatred and fear of republicans they have become used to spouting over the years, as though nothing has changed.
Just like Trimble in the same fix in 1997, Paisley still hasn't spoken to Adams or McGuinness, his putative co-equal First Minister. It's great fun watching the action replay.
Will he take two years like Trimble?
Why would Paisley turn turtle like this? Not because the British government holds a big stick over him, or because Dublin and London plan to work in tandem.
There's another factor which people tend to underestimate – the visceral antipathy many DUP people feel towards the Ulster Unionist Party.
Don't forget, a lot of DUP voters in salubrious south Belfast were more than happy to lend Alasdair McDonnell the Westminster seat rather than let the UUP win it. Never in his wildest dreams did Paisley ever imagine he would defeat the UUP in an assembly election let alone see them reduced to one Westminster seat.
He wants to complete the job and finish them off as a political force. That's why the DUP want a triumphal assembly election so bad they can taste it.
Furthermore, the DUP got the message on the doorstep in 2005 that voters didn't like them saying 'No' to everything, including sharing power at Stormont.
Failing to bite the bullet – unfortunate metaphor – and snuggle in with Martin McGuinness would mean the slow withering of the all-conquering unionist party Paisley has created.
Worst of all, it could allow the resurgence of the UUP as a party prepared to do a deal with republicans, which is something the DUP know unionist voters want.
The stark choice confronting Paisley is that if he doesn't deal now when he's on top of the pile there will be no other opportunity and once bereft of a goal, the inevitable disintegration of his party could allow the hated and despised UUP to stage the biggest comeback since Lazarus.
He has an opportunity to create a legacy now that he never imagined he would have had, to establish his party as the permanent ruling voice of one of the north's ethnic blocks.
So while the anti-republican rhetoric remains, what it's really intended to do is convince unionist voters that the DUP is the only party they can trust to deal with Sinn Féin.
It has absolutely nothing to do with defeating SF. It never had. It's all about defeating other unionists and making Paisley head buck cat unionist, all he's ever wanted.
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