With humble pie off the menu, the deal was done

THE coffee shop opposite Hillsborough castle is called Humble Pie – but for once, Sinn Féin and the DUP did not try to force each other to eat such a dish during their marathon negotiations.

Though the deal to bring policing and justice powers back to the North for the first time since direct rule was imposed in 1972 marks the fulfilment of the last major plank of the Good Friday Agreement, DUP leader Peter Robinson still could not bring himself to shake on it. Power-sharing may have been saved, but decades of distrust still linger as Mr Robinson dismissed calls for a symbolic handshake with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as a “stunt”.

Mr Robinson knew such a sight would intensify the shouts of “sell-out” coming from the extreme flank of loyalism which his party so recently occupied and is now home to the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV).

The TUV immediately berated the DUP for “melting like snowman” in the face of a bit of republican heat, and Mr Robinson must now assure his own hardliners, and the bunker mentality core of unionism they represent, that he did not surrender the field to Sinn Féin.

After all, it was triumphalist rhetoric from Gerry Adams that helped crash plans for an agreement last Monday when the Sinn Féin president compared the marathon talks session to a GAA game, stating the Shinners had “taken control of the pitch” from the DUP after 80 hours of stalemate.

The remark, along with Mr Adams’ claim the deal was merely “a staging post” not a full stop, alarmed many in the DUP and 14 of the party’s 36 Assembly members rebelled at a tense showdown with Mr Robinson.

This left the DUP leader scrambling to regain his position and attempt to repackage the deal, his hand was strengthened when the senior investigating lawyer from within his own First Minister’s department cleared him of any wrong-doing regarding the way his wife Iris secured £50,000 from property developers to enable her teenage lover to set up his own cafe.

The scathing term “Trimble-esque” had been used by some to describe the Robinson wobble on the deal, calling to mind the often pathetic sight of then UUP leader and First Minister David Trimble when he floundered amidst continued revolt in his own ranks and accusations of capitulation to Sinn Féin from the DUP.

Which is why Mr Robinson needed the concession of a fast-tracked reform of how Orange Order parade routes are decided in order to bring his party along with him in backing what was effectively the same deal they rejected earlier in the week.

DUP nerves are clearly displayed by the eagerness to have the policing and justice powers devolved to Belfast by April 12, not, as expected in early May which would have come just days before Westminster elections where the TUV will be sure to make much play of what they call Mr Robinson’s “Trimble timidity”.

The smaller parties complain of a stitch up by the big two ones who used to be the extremes and now constitute the only sustainable mainstream able to hold the fractious Stormont institutions together.

The UUP boycotted the grand declaration at Hillsborough Castle in a fit of pique that belies their bitterness at no longer being able to dictate to others.

Outgoing SDLP leader Mark Durkin was also scathing that the Shinners had sold out to the DUP on gerrymandered new boundaries which would see nine councils currently in nationalist hands switch to unionists control in return for a strengthening of the republican position in the two main cities.

The SDLP also fears the cloak of national security will still be able to be thrown over anything London decides is too sensitive for Northern Irish politicians to handle.

But the quibbling from the sidelines does not take away from the fact that 120 hours of hard-fought manoeuvring by Dublin, London and the two main Northern players has finally landed a deal.

The relief on Gordon Brown’s face was palpable as he announced the agreement.

Power-sharing limps forward once more, with the republican and loyalist extremists eager to cripple it again. But the unwieldy Good Friday arrangements will only endure if the DUP and Sinn Féin take automatic distrust off the menu along with humble pie.

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