The DUP is clearly split over the way forward, says Robert McCartney QC, MLA, UKUP, but did they permit a last-minute clause to be added to the St Andrews legislation to ensure they had a big bogeyman to rally voters next March - the spectre of Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness as First Minister?
Central to political brainwashing is the technique of disorientation by which the subject is deprived of the touchstones of present reality such as Time, Place and Memory.
When he or she is suitably prepared a new set of values is introduced as the subject's old ones are washed down the 'memory hole'. The Unionist electorate is now being similarly conditioned by the DUP to accept its new stance as a 'born again' Pro-Agreement party.
Post St Andrews the dominant sentiment among remaining party activists is one of deep confusion at the leadership's U-turn. Indeed, it was clearly the leadership intention to maintain that confusion until after the March 2007 election. But the party's efforts to keep its grass roots in a state of unreasoning faith in its iconic leader have not been entirely successful. For the first time a significant number of his loyal supporters have questioned the direction the party is taking. As a result, Dr Paisley found it necessary to deny publicly that he would be party to any 'sellout'. Yet by agreeing in principle to enter into an enforced coalition with Sinn Fein upon any terms in breach of the 2005 Manifesto, that is exactly what the DUP leadership is intending to do.
Confusion and dissent are not limited to the party grass roots support. They have become evident even within the upper levels of the party hierarchy. The 12 dissenting apostles minus one have maintained their opposition at the Templepatrick meeting. That belief is supported by the leader's call for party unity in his 'House Divided' speech at the Kells meeting. Leaders only plead for unity when the threat of division is an established fact.
The 'pragmatists' in the leadership are not, however, in the least confused. They have already decided to go into partnership with Sinn Fein, but wish to maintain confusion about the terms on which they will do so until after the election. Such uncertainty enables them to keep the 'unhappy apostles' on board until after the election. In the meantime everything will be 'work in progress'.
Recently published emails from Ian Paisley jnr and Jeffrey Donaldson reveal a touching naivety in claiming that the St Andrews Agreement provides the mechanism for smashing the Republican movement and destroying its ideology.
In their view, acceptance of the PSNI and agreement to observe the rule of law will form the IRA's epitaph. Ian jnr states "a Republican who accepts the police is no longer a Republican". Such faith is appealing, but the real response is that a Republican who infiltrates, let alone runs the police, is a stronger Republican. Words alone will not change the leopard's spots.
Jeffrey Donaldson, who as an Ulster Unionist opposed David Trimble's policies, is now adapting one of Trimble's reasons for power-sharing with Sinn Fein, by trotting out the old bogeyman that if Unionists don't do the deal something worse like joint authority is lurking in the woodshed.
Faced with the prospect of dissent within their own grass roots and the loss of the votes of anti-Agreement Ulster Unionists who switched to the DUP in the last two elections, the DUP 'pragmatists' had already devised a big stick with which to herd a fearful Unionist electorate into the polling booths on the party's behalf.
They recognised that as the DUP and the Ulster Unionists were now both willing to enter an enforced coalition with Sinn Fein their policies were indistinguishable.
As a result, anti-Agreement Unionists would have no place to go to on election day and might stay at home or spoil their ballot papers. A scheme of electoral emotional blackmail had therefore to be devised to drive them to the polling stations and give Ian Paisley their vote.
The St Andrews Agreement legislation has provided the DUP with the necessary big stick to emotionally coerce Unionists into voting for it at the expense of other parties. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which put into law the Belfast Agreement, elected Assembly members had to designate themselves Unionist, Nationalist, or Other. The First and Deputy First Minister were elected by cross-community vote. As Unionists were always the largest designation they could not only nominate the First minister, but also effectively block the nomination of unsuitable candidates for the post of Deputy.
The DUP, on the basis that it would not vote for any Sinn Fein candidate, negotiated a change whereby the largest party in the largest designation would nominate the First Minister. This would almost certainly have guaranteed the DUP the right to nominate. However, at the very last moment an astonishing clause was inserted which provided that it was simply the largest party regardless of designation that would have the right to nominate the First Minister. At a stroke the spectre of Martin McGuinness as First Minister arose, if Sinn Fein became the largest single party, regardless of Unionists as a whole having many more seats than Nationalists.
The identity of the party requiring the change remains unknown, but certainly the DUP must have seen the draft bill and were indeed warned of its significance by Jim Allister MEP. Nevertheless, the DUP did not object to it. As a party it could have said to the Government "if you make this change we will break off negotiations for devolution". At the very least it could have tabled an amendment in the Commons debate. Not only did it not do so but it 'talked out' a proposed Ulster Unionist amendment. In the House of Lords the Ulster Unionists tabled and debated an amendment, but the DUP did not.
There can only be one rational explanation for the DUP's acquiescence - namely that the change provided the DUP with a weapon that it could use for its own electoral advantage. The symbolic and morale-boosting effect of a Unionist First Minister was to be put at risk for selfish party gain. Like the tactic employed by the DUP in past European elections, the proposed March Assembly election would not be about policies or truth. Instead it would be turned into a contest between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. The DUP election machine will then churn out the threat and wield the emotional blackmailing stick that if Unionists do not turn out to vote and make the DUP the single largest party, then Martin McGuinness could conceivably be the First Minister of Northern Ireland.
Unionists will not therefore be asked to vote for the DUP because they support that party's new pro-Agreement policy, but to vote for the DUP in order to stop Martin McGuinness becoming First Minister.
This is a high risk strategy by the DUP that deliberately puts in danger the wider interests of the Unionist people for its own narrow political gain.
What greater hypocrisy can their be than to create a situation detrimental to the Unionist community and then blackmail the electorate into voting for the party that failed to prevent it.
It becomes clear with every passing day that none of the DUP's 'work in progress' will become 'work satisfactorily completed' by the date of the March election. If the election nevertheless takes place, the Unionist people will be asked to give the DUP a blank cheque by voting for it.
Doubtless the party's manifesto will contain pledges and promises as to the terms and conditions upon which it will enter an enforced coalition government with Sinn Fein.
But the electorate would do well to simply remember the pledge which that party gave in its general election manifesto last year: 'Inclusive mandatory coalition government which includes Sinn Fein under D'Hondt or any other system is out of the question.'