Here are the reasons why, probably at the end of the Orange marching season, the DUP and Sinn Fein will cut a deal to restore the power-sharing government at Stormont.
Firstly, Sinn Fein have nowhere else to go. Stormont has, ironically, become the party’s only raison d’etre in the North, the irony being derived from the Provisional IRA’s founding aim to destroy the place.
Without a place in government, Sinn Fein has nothing else to show for the peace process or for the IRA abandoning not just its war and weapons but with them the ideological foundations for Irish republicanism, aka the principle of consent. All relinquished at the insistence of the IRA’s opponents.
War or peace were the choices facing the Provos and having plumped for the latter they must play the game, fully, or raise elemental questions about SF’s ability to survive as a political entity.
So central has Stormont become to the Provos’ existence that Gerry Adams recently accorded it a central role in the job of ‘persuading’ the Unionists into a united Ireland. And without Stormont where would the leverage then come from, assuming a return to war is neither realistic nor desirable?
Sinn Fein created this ‘crisis’ by demanding Arlene Foster’s resignation while an inquiry was held into the so-called ‘cash for ash’ scandal. There is now no mention of this demand, presumably because SF knows what the response will be.
Nonetheless, Sinn Fein did very well in the special election prompted by Martin McGuinness’ withdrawal as deputy First Minister in response to Foster’s refusal to stand down.
The party was able to whip up Fenian blood in anger at the DUP and did that well enough to increase the size of its Assembly team, run the DUP perilously close in their respective shares of the vote and to see off a burgeoning left-wing challenge from Eamon McCann’s People Before Profit party.
If the British decided that the likelihood of an agreement was so slim that only a fresh election could move the logjam, could Sinn Fein guarantee that all those gains from last March could be protected and repeated? A big risk, I would say.
Finally there is Theresa May’s loot, aka the bribe to the DUP to keep her slippers under the bed at Downing Street for a few weeks more. It is worth between £1.5 and £2 billion, an awful lot of money.
If Stormont was restored Sinn Fein would, via its ministerial team, be entitled to a significant say in how, and more important, where it would be spent. Now to be sure I am certain that la familie Robinson is already plotting ways to frustrate the Shinners in this regard, but if Sinn Fein was in the Executive it could at least fight back.
Earlier today I listened to an academic from Liverpool university proclaiming on BBC Radio 4 that the DUP were sitting pretty. They had got their money from May and now could just sit back and allow it to be spent. Ergo, no pressure to go back to government with Sinn Fein.
So the DUP squeezes £2 billion or thereabouts from a fatally wounded British prime minister and then sits back to allow her proconsul in Belfast to decide how to spend their money?
No, having extracted the bribe, the DUP would be insane not to want the final say on how it is spent, or at least as much of it as they can control. It is why most people become politicians, so they can spend taxpayers’ money on their coveted schemes and plots, even more so when you’ve just won the equivalent of several lucrative lotteries. To surrender that right to others would be the height of irrationality, not to say lunacy.
And these days the DUP is a party of conventional politicians. The days of Paisleyite protesting are now a dim memory and the people who stand under his party’s banner these days want to take their seats and exercise governmental power like conventional politicians.
I suspect there are many in Sinn Fein who feel the same way but are too timid to say so, at least publicly.
In just over a week or so, up to 100,000 Orangemen will gather in the picturesque Co. Down village of Scarva for the annual sham fight between King Billy and King James, a battle whose outcome is pre-ordained by history. There is as much chance of a deal not being done at Stormont as King James departing the field at Scarva as the victor.
Postscript: Sinn Fein has made recognition of the Irish language the battleground for restoration of Stormont. There was a time when the Shinners might instead have chosen a commitment to spend Theresa May’s £2 billion on the abolition of food banks as their precondition.