Belfast Telegraph

Peter Robinson set the trap but the DUP has been snared

By Alan Murray

In spite of devising a Baldrick-type 'cunning plan' that would ensnare the Ulster Unionist Party up to its armpits, Peter Robinson today faces the possible Assembly division that he had hoped to avoid.

Without the guarantee of significant adjustments to how the Stormont Executive is run, Sir Reg Empey is seemingly committed to force the division this afternoon that will leave the DUP leader fire-fighting unrest within his own camp as the General Election looms.

Defending the destructive role of Caitriona Ruane towards the cherished grammar schools within the unionist community, and a First Minister's Office that contains Martin McGuinness rather than a constitutional democrat like Seamus Mallon, is a role Peter Robinson will hardly relish.

He charmed his party in early February with the apparent pearl of political strategy that if the Ulster Unionists didn't support the Hillsborough Castle Deal, then there would be no gig and Reg Empey and Danny Kennedy would have the blame shovelled onto them.

No more than a week ago, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds confirmed - or seemed to confirm - that, without the UUP's shoulder to the wheel, there would be no heavy lifting by his own party. Last Thursday, though, came a volte-face from Robinson and the announcement that the 'cunning plan' would now not be deployed at all and that the DUP would sink or swim alone through the division lobby today.

It would be costly now in credibility terms for the UUP not to cause a division vote.

At the very least, the division might flush out one or two DUP MLAs who still harbour doubts about devolving policing and justice from Westminster. The consequences for the UUP are hardly prohibitive. In fact, it is almost a 'win-win' situation.

Policing and justice powers can go through without UUP support, and Reg Empey and his MLAs are unlikely to be gravely admonished by a unionist electorate concerned about the implications of the move and unconvinced about its value (or, for that matter, David Ford as the politician to spearhead it). The SDLP will nod, or walk, it through - even though efforts by new leader Margaret Ritchie with Reg Empey to achieve a modification of the paralysing two-party veto that governs the Executive were soundly rebuffed last week.

A proposal to change the veto mechanism from a two-party censure to a much broader three-party veto was rejected by Martin McGuinness - evidence, some say, of the carve-up he and Robinson plan to continue into the future.

The Ulster Political Research Group added its reservations about the Robinson-endorsed deal, saying loyalist communities where its supporters live have seen no consultation on the Hillsborough contract.

The Orange Order, too, has clear reservations, leaving only Dawn Purvis sure to raise her hand to the ceiling to clamour for policing and justice powers to be devolved.

With Dawn attached and the certain absence of Ulster Unionist the Rev Robert Coulter, who will be collecting his MBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace, Peter Robinson should have a comfortable, if not comforting, 36-17 majority.

American pressure has now been added to the lobby from London and Dublin and it's no surprise that a 'loaded' NIO poll has drifted from Hillsborough onto Reg Empey's shoulders.

Crucially, though, no movement has come from either Robinson, and particularly Martin McGuinness, to reform an Executive that can become paralysed for months - and, indeed, has been.

The DUP argues that it can and will stymie the introduction of an Irish Language Act, especially if Caitriona Ruane continues to attack 'Protestant' grammar schools, and now preparatory schools, within the unionist community.

Problem is, Ms Ruane, like another lady, appears not for turning and her leader is ghosting behind her, promising more ammunition for her social engineering policies.

When Sinn Fein gets policing and justice powers in the bag, presumably this afternoon, how kindly disposed will Martin need to be to Peter in the future?

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