Analysis: Choreography of sorts emerging to delay Stormont’s collapse

Parliament Buildings, at Stormont in east Belfast. ' 'Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Parliament Buildings, at Stormont in east Belfast. ' 'Picture: Jonathan Porter/PressEye

For more than a week now, the DUP has repeated a phrase which has become its mantra in the current crisis — “it cannot be business as usual”.

Mr Robinson uses it again in his article in today’s News Letter and even when speaking informally to DUP staff close to Mr Robinson the phrase is used liberally.

The party needs to be seen to be doing somenthing to react to the re-emergence of the IRA and the phrase has been settled upon as its response.

The difficulty thus far is that unlike the UUP’s very simple and easily understood decision to quit the Executive, the DUP response has been enormously nuanced.

While there is a method in the apparent madness of resigning all but two ministers and then beginning a series of weekly resignations and renominations, it is such a complex and technical procedure that to many close watchers of politics – never mind to the man in the street – it requires a lot of explaining.

Until now there have been limited tangible benefits, in terms of punishing Sinn Fein, stemming from either the UUP or DUP approaches.

The DUP has managed to get the Government to promise to impose welfare reform if necessary, something which – once more – would buy Stormont some more time on the financial front if this current hurdle is overcome.

But there has been no specific sanction over the allegation that IRA members were involved in murder.

That may change this weekend.

Unlike its attempts to persuade the Government to suspend Stormont, the DUP seems to be pushing at an open door in pressing the Government to re-introduce an Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) to report on the status of paramilitary organisations.

However, the DUP has made clear that simply re-casting the IMC will not be enough and the new body will need to not only be able to report on paramilitary activity but have a role in sanctioning those responsible.

Yesterday Theresa Villiers and David Cameron heavily hinted that such an announcement is imminent.

The DUP is meeting over the weekend to discuss whether to attend the all-party talks on Monday. In today’s News Letter article, Mr Robinson also hints that the DUP might not attend the talks if it does not receive enough assurance from the Government, something which an announcement about a new IMC would seemingly solve.

Such an announcement would also assist UUP leader Mike Nesbitt in removing himself from the spear on which he has impaled himself wih regard to entering talks.

By addressing the re-emergence of the IRA through a new body prior to Monday’s talks, Mr Nesbitt could claim that paramilitarism no longer needs to be “top of the agenda” and he can attend.

In his article, Mr Robinson also says that the DUP will on Monday outline its approach to the Assembly. It is not clear exactly what line the party will take, but it is likely to adopt a minimalist approach to participation in the Assembly.

There is a choreograhy emerging which could yet see Stormont stumble on for weeks or even months.

But there must be some nervous DUP MLAs who will be facing the electorate by next May at the latest. They know that Stormont was already held in derision by a large section of the public.

If the price of saving devolution is weeks or months of farcical non-government, with open goals for a UUP now shorn of any responsibilities as part of the Executive, are their seats going to be sacrificed at the ballot box in May to save Stormont?