Senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin are mounting a major diplomatic effort to try to persuade the Ulster Unionist Party to agree to the transfer of Policing and Justice powers to the Assembly next month.
A crucial vote is scheduled for next Tuesday, when a majority of unionist and a majority of nationalist members of the 108-strong chamber will have to endorse the proposal.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds reaffirmed at the weekend that his party would not back the Hillsborough Deal if the UUP refused to support it next week.
On Monday First Minister Peter Robinson repeated the demand for UUP support, saying that without it “community confidence” would not be achieved even though he has sufficient MLAs to carry the vote within his own party next week. Now, senior UUP figures have revealed that officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs are trying to convince the UUP to vote for the deal on Tuesday.
“We hadn’t heard from the Department of Foreign Affairs in two years and then suddenly they’re on the phone, inviting us to lunch, suggesting chats and all that,” one senior UUP figure said.
“They kept away from us as if we had some contagious disease for the last two years and then, when it looks as if Peter Robinson is going to come unstuck, they are all over us like a rash,trying to put the pressure on us to pull Robinson out of a hole,” one senior party officer said.
So far UUP leader Sir Reg Empey has been reluctant to pledge support for the deal, although he has agreed to chair a committee set up under Hillsborough to see how the Executive could function more effectively.
Gordon Brown and David Cameron have been exerting pressure on the UUP leader to lead his Assembly group through the lobby behind the DUP next Tuesday. If they abstain, or refuse to take Peter Robinson’s lead, there will probably be a collapse of the Assembly and an election which could see Martin McGuinness returned as First Minister.