Belfast Telegraph

Peter Robinson's brinkmanship will be wasted on David Cameron

By Liam Clarke

Michael Alison, a former Tory minister during the 1981 Hunger Strike, may have something in common with Peter Robinson. He once told the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (a Catholic Church body) that "there is a lady behind the veil" when he was asked to make concessions to end the protest.

He meant Margaret Thatcher. It was widely believed that Mr Alison, a fairly liberal character, was more inclined to do business but he wasn't the Prime Minister and behind the veil she was pulling his strings.

Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt, the two main unionist leaders, feel that Secretary of State Theresa Villiers wants to give them something more concrete than she offered yesterday. For her part she has a high opinion of Mr Robinson's abilities as a dealmaker. Both she and her Government want to keep him in play.

This led the DUP to think it could force her hand. That may not be possible and, if it is, it may leave so much bad feeling that it will be an empty victory.

The fact is that David Cameron is behind the veil and it is his hand, the hand of a Prime Minister with a working majority, that would have to be forced. He is, as Ms Villiers said yesterday, in daily touch and not much gets past him.

He is disinclined to give us subsidies that will spark greater demands from the rest of the UK. He is disinclined to give unionists or other parties the substance of their demands as preconditions. He expects them to argue for them in negotiations.

Mr Cameron lost a day when Gerry Adams bawled him out in previous talks so he is not that keen to mix it with the locals unless they are ready for compromise. Yet he is still in control.

Our politicians used to spend their time demanding to speak to the Prime Minister and saying the Secretary of State hadn't a clue.

That dynamic has shifted, among unionists at least, to one of hoping the Secretary of State can persuade him.

That is building up ill-feeling among other parties and with Government. Mr Cameron doesn't want direct rule back but he doesn't want ordered around either. He made that clear to Nigel Dodds in the Commons only last week, telling the DUP parliamentary leader the importance of working with other parties, including Sinn Fein.

Peter Robinson is a skilful political actor but these "stand and deliver tactics" with the Government are a big risk. It would be better, after his next meeting with the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister, to simply say he believed they intended doing the right thing and he was going to test it in round-table negotiations.

There are more ways than one to skin a cat.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph