DUP angling for `Unionist' assembly

By Brian Feeney (from the Irish News)

They say there are two kinds of politicians, foxes and hedgehogs. A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows only one thing.

If it's true, then Harry West, the former Ulster Unionist leader who died last Thursday, was a hedgehog.

West may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but as obituaries last week pointed out, he did know one thing, namely that keeping Stormont was absolutely crucial for Unionists.

As a wealthy Fermanagh farmer surrounded by a rapidly growing Catholic population, West opposed everything Terence O'Neill stood for. Nevertheless, when it came to the crunch he advised Brian Faulkner in 1972 to accept anything the British demanded rather than give up Stormont.

West believed, correctly, that to keep the north as a Unionist slum it was essential to have a regional assembly under Unionists' control.

That's one of the reasons West was elected leader of the UUP to succeed Faulkner in 1974. He opposed power-sharing, partnership or any euphemism to disguise any arrangement short of Unionist rule.

That's why he opposed Sunningdale, made common cause with paramilitary groups in the Ulster Workers Council insurrection and allied himself with Paisleyism for the rest of the 1970s.

This isn't about Harry West though. His tactics in the 1970s simply serve to show unionism hasn't changed a bit since then.

The majority of unionists voted for West and his party in 1974, 1975 and 1979. Those who didn't, voted for Paisley's party which simply enunciated the same policies as West only more vociferously.

In case you're under any illusions, somehow beguiled by the mealy-mouthed response of our proconsul and Bertie Ahern to the latest DUP proposals, they reek of exactly the same stable as the one Harry West's came from.

Let's be quite clear about it, the DUP document, Devolution Now, is a proposal to establish an assembly controlled by Unionists just as Harry West wanted and the majority of unionists hankered after since 1972.

The code word is `accountable'. By that the DUP means accountable to unionists.

Even should a miracle happen and the IRA surrender its weapons to Ian Paisley when it wouldn't for David Trimble, even if that were to happen and a full-blown executive were to be established in what the DUP calls a `Mandated Coalition', ministers would be required to have their decisions ratified by the whole assembly: quite simply a unionist veto.

Oh no, says the DUP, decisions would be ratified by a majority of each community's representatives or a weighted majority of 70%. Yeah, right. Well, guess who has the majority of unionists in the assembly?

As for that 70% figure. Exclude the Presiding Officer and 70% of 107 is 74. So the majority of nationalist members, 24 Sinn Fein, could vote against a controversial measure and it would still pass.

Except it wouldn't be 107 members. The DUP want a 72-member assembly, four from each constituency.

Seventy percent of that is 50 members. You couldn't get 70% of a 72-seat assembly without DUP support. So the DUP would have a veto on ministers whichever way you tried to advance legislation.

Please don't forget, though you could be forgiven for thinking both SF and the SDLP had forgotten, that an assembly is not the Good Friday Agreement. There can't be an assembly without all-Ireland bodies. The DUP is silent about them. We're promised details later.

No prizes for predicting that in the DUP wonderland, all-Ireland bodies would be `accountable' to an assembly controlled by unionists.

It's amazing and disappointing therefore to watch commentators agog at the great leap forward the DUP has taken, how they've embraced power-sharing, partnership, how Paisley's exegesis of St Paul's epistles has led him up the road to Damascus too.

Give us a break. If anything, the system envisaged by the DUP is reminiscent of Jim Prior's plans for rolling devolution.

Not so, says Peter Robinson. `His was horizontal. Ours is vertical.' It's irrelevant what direction it points. Its progress depends on unionists. It is not equality of status in administration as of right for both communities.

Danny Morrison described Prior's assembly as `an Orange hall with the Alliance party washing the windows and sweeping the floor'. There were no nationalists there. The difference this time is the DUP won't even be allowed to unlock the hall without Sinn Fein's permission.

No. To paraphrase Dr Johnson, the DUP preaching politics `is like a dog walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.'

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