Friday, July 06, 2007

DUP demands will weaken links with Britain

Brian Feeney:

In the early 1970s Gerry Fitt used to say the republican slogan 'Brits out' was tantamount to telling your partner to get out of the house but "leave your wallet on the mantle-piece".

In many respects that is exactly what the present executive is asking with their ridiculous demands for reduction in corporation tax and a goodie-bag as a reward for finally clinching a deal.

A demand for a reduction in tax is not in itself ridiculous of course but in the context of the UK as a whole it is, especially with Labour under threat in Scotland. Furthermore, a financial peace dividend is preposterous after more than a decade of peace.

The parties have allowed the NIO to waste any extra cash between 1998 and now. The message from our new proconsul is unmistakeable if not clear. Norn Irn has got a three-year financial settlement, he said, and Scotland would be delighted with that instead of having to wait for an annual budget.

So that's it then.

Paisley and Robinson's big election play turned out to be a by-ball. Naturally Sinn Féin are only delighted to go along with it all because anything which would bring the north's tax system closer to the Republic's and different from Britain's is a plus in their eyes, even though for most of their election campaign in the Republic SF were arguing for a rise in corporation tax. Confused? So were the Republic's voters.

That's by the by. The point is that the DUP and Sinn Féin are having such a great time agreeing with each other because they both share the same attitude but have different aims. Neither of them likes the Brits. Take for example the hostile response of both Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to our previous proconsul's doomed 'consultation panel' about victims of the Troubles. Harrumph, said Paisley.

I hope the NIO's going to pay for it, for we're not.

He regarded the panel as an impertinence, an interference in the assembly's affairs. The DUP and SF are busily negotiating about a new Victims Commissioner.

Nobody else's business.

Martin McGuinness was also annoyed but for different reasons. He too objected to the NIO's presumption and arrogance but was furious that the panel was announced as a transparent attempt to absolve the British state of any complicity in the violence here.

You'll also notice there was a pretty restrained welcome for the new proconsul from the two main parties at Stormont. The main actors were in Washington and at the Somme when he was appointed but they see themselves in the driving seat and any blow-in from England as a fifth wheel on their car.

It's going to take our local media some time to adjust to this change where Westminster is secondary, local MPs are the second 15 and any questions they ask will be referred to Stormont ministers. Northern Ireland Question Time first will become redundant, then will be abolished.

Again, both the DUP and SF will be delighted but for different reasons.

Some unionists have become a bit queasy about all this and have warned Paisley about the dangers of 'Ulster nationalism' and using the same contemptuous tone for British ministers as Sinn Féin does. They worry that the DUP approach of emphasising the differences between the north and Britain encourages the separation of the north from the UK. Needless to say, that's exactly why Sinn Féin ministers agree with every word the DUP says.

The plain fact is that the DUP is an 'Ulster nationalist' party which has always wanted maximum devolution – Paisley even flirted with independence.

Now Paisley sees himself as the equivalent of the taoiseach. That's why he loves wandering around the Boyne with Bertie and being treated as a head of state at Farmleigh House. Fundamentally Paisley's brand of unionism never trusted the British not to do some dirty deal with Dublin.

He believes that can't happen now that he controls the fate of unionists.

Enoch Powell was right – the more powers Stormont has, the weaker the link with Britain.

So, the more DUP demands are frustrated, the more they will seek common cause with SF against Westminster.

Where will it all end?

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