Page last updated at 19:01 GMT, Monday, 6 February 2006

How badly do the parties want power-sharing?

Martina Purdy
By Martina Purdy
BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent

Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams don't have to talk to get a deal. The Good Friday negotiations proved that, but their interests at least need to converge.

That is, they must both need - or at least want - a deal.

The Good Friday Agreement was forged because the SDLP leader John Hume desperately wanted a deal, and the Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble decided he desperately needed one to stabilise the union and stop the drift towards Dublin.

DUP leader Ian Paisley
Does Ian Paisley need Stormont to be re-opened?

Does anybody sense any desperation for devolution from either Mr Paisley or Mr Adams?

Does Gerry Adams want to see Stormont reopened? Does Ian Paisley need it?

Mr Adams insists he wants power-sharing to return - but one might ask how badly.

Certainly not badly enough to allow it to reopen in a less ambitious form while trust is built. Mr Adams might well calculate that his interests lie in proving Northern Ireland is an unworkable political entity.

After all if Northern Ireland works, does that help or hinder his goal of Irish unity?

If on the other hand it becomes apparent that Stormont will never reopen, no matter how much progress the IRA makes towards keeping its promises, Sinn Fein can step up demands for joint authority while focussing on building his party's strength in Dail Eireann.

The price

Getting power in Dublin would give Sinn Fein great influence in any Anglo-Irish axis that runs Northern Ireland.

The DUP says it wants devolution, but not at any price.

The DUP is trying to keep Stormont open by proposing a two-step process whereby the assembly opens but power is not exercised by local ministers until there is sufficient confidence that the IRA has gone away.

But the DUP, bullish after stunning election victories, does not feel the need to compromise at present. As far as Ian Paisley is concerned, it is for others to move.

When the DUP leader came to power, questions arose about whether he was willing to do a deal. That is not the right question.

The question is: can he do a deal with Sinn Fein even if he wanted to?

Does a working Stormont help Sinn Fein

The realpolitik would suggest he cannot because it is too much to ask any politician - even one with Ian Paisley's powers of persuasion - to sell power-sharing with Sinn Fein in the short-term.

Mr Paisley has said too much about the IRA, and David Trimble, over the years to shrink from his uncompromising position the minute he gets power.

It could split his party as surely as the Ulster Unionist Party split.

To keep his party united, Mr Paisley requires time and context before he can compromise.

He needs to be able to explain why he has changed his mind - and his time-frame is probably years (he suggested at least two in August 2005.)

He is certainly in no hurry. In fact, there was a very telling quote from the DUP leader in the News Letter to mark his party's annual conference.

He suggested he did not have to worry about sharing-power with Sinn Fein in an executive because the IRA would never be able to pass the democratic test.

Monitoring report

Only the ballot box will shift the DUP and Sinn Fein.

But there is no sign that the electorate will punish either party for failing to deliver devolution. Stormont closed without so much as a whimper from a public more used to direct rule than devolution.

In fact, it could be argued that the person most desperate for devolution is Tony Blair.

But his failure to turn up in Belfast, as expected, to kick start the talks - and press the politicians to compromise - is a sign that even Mr Blair knows there is little point in delivering any ultimatums just now.

The Independent Monitoring Commission report contained too many black marks against the IRA for him to argue that the DUP must shift.

While there were some positive aspects to the report, the allegation that senior republicans remain involved in money-laundering has given the DUP the cover it needs to resist London.

So instead of an upbeat message from Tony Blair, the talks have begun in an atmosphere of gloom.

It has been left to Peter Hain and Dermot Ahern to talk to the parties.

Peter Hain
Peter Hain has been chairing the talks

Both spent the day at Hillsborough on Monday and are set to return later this month. But to what end?

They both say they want progress by April but the comments of both Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley afterwards suggest they can't even agree on a time-frame for progress.

Mr Adams said it must be short; Mr Paisley says he won't be rushed.

What is more Mr Paisley said Sinn Fein should not even be allowed into talks - and raised the bar for power-sharing. It is not good enough, he said, for the IRA to be transformed - they must be disbanded.

When this was put to Mr Adams, he said he didn't want to talk about the IRA. But Ian Paisley is unlikely to hold his tongue on the issue.





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