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Ex-party spin-doctor is letting world know that talks are doomed to failure

By Malachi O'Doherty

Published 26/09/2015

You have to wonder what Danny Morrison is up to.

His tweet said: "Peter Robinson is finished. Sinn Fein now need to work out who is the next credible leader of unionism with whom to do business."

Danny understands basic party politics as well as anybody - in fact better than most. So he knows that it is not up to Sinn Fein to choose the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party or a 'credible leader of unionism', whatever that means.

Sometimes you'd wonder if Sinn Fein is collecting unionist scalps. From a party whose current leader was appointed in the same year that Neil Kinnock took the leadership of the Labour Party, perhaps a more helpful reflection might be on whether a new leader of republicanism would settle unionist nerves.

But he's mixing it.

He's trying to sew discord in the DUP, perhaps. Perhaps he's indulging a fantasy among republicans that they have more power than they have.

He is certainly endorsing a republican conviction that they are moving ahead in line with destiny and that the only future for unionism is to get in step with them.

That's not a case most unionists will agree with.

And maybe he is preparing republicans for the collapse of this Assembly and a protracted period of negotiation before another opportunity arises for stable power-sharing.

He is not surely so naive as to think that the circumstances now are much similar to those 10 years ago when Sinn Fein could destroy David Trimble and clear the way for Ian Paisley and the DUP.

For there is no other unionist party standing behind Robinson with a prospect of replacing the DUP.

The benign reading of that strategy to bleed Trimble is that Adams and those around him trusted that they could get a more secure partnership with a unionist hard man who could carry the whole community with him.

The more cynical might wonder if they were just playing the game to destruction, to shore up a case that unionism simply couldn't share power with republicans, and to wrap up and be done with the power-sharing experiment.

Today there is no alternative to sharing power with the Democratic Unionist Party, any more than the DUP has any alternative to sharing with Sinn Fein.

But there is a danger that Robinson is becoming what Trimble was and Faulkner before him, a unionist leader committed to devolution and power-sharing who doesn't have enough clout to hold the wider unionist community with him.

It is hardly conceivable that a deal hammered out in the current talks would placate the TUV and the Ulster Unionists and lay to rest all danger of another crisis causing a wobble in the stately pillars of Stormont.

Even if he wanted to - and perhaps he does - Peter Robinson cannot promise his Sinn Fein partners stability. And Morrison is urging republicans, in his own deft way, to get their minds round that.

He's letting the rest of us know that Sinn Fein has already decided that these talks are doomed to fail.

Malachi O'Doherty's unauthorised biography of Gerry Adams will be published next year by Faber & Faber

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