23 November 2006 Edition
Inch by inch
Decision time for the leadership of unionism arrives this Friday at Stormont. The meeting of the Six County Assembly marks a definitive point in the political process because the intentions of Ian Paisley's DUP will be clear.
DUP agreement to share power jointly with Irish republicans in a Six County Executive and to participate fully in an All-Ireland Ministerial Council would be an unprecedented political achievement, marking a definitive break with the past.
The most significant feature of recent political developments is that Ian Paisley's DUP has been brought surely and steadily, if very slowly and tortuously, to a position where they never wanted nor expected to be. So far the DUP has not said 'No' to the proposals of the Irish and British Governments at St Andrews or to the path of power sharing and implementation of the Good Friday Agreement that was laid out there.
So far the DUP have been moved, very reluctantly, down the path of political engagement with nationalists and republicans, to an acceptance of power-sharing and all Ireland institutions. There have been serious setbacks, not least of which was Ian Paisley's 'wobble' following St Andrews when he withdrew his party from a scheduled meeting of the Programme for Government Committee.
There is no guarantee that Paisley will not 'wobble' again on Friday. There is no guarantee that the DUP will demonstrate, in the most concrete and practical way, that it is prepared to share power with republicans, by putting forward Ian Paisley for the position of First Minister. All those who want to advance the peace process hope that it will.
However, if on Friday the DUP turn their face against power sharing and political progress, the Irish and British Governments must move and move decisively. The Assembly should be shut down and the governments embark on new governmental 'partnership arrangements' which they previously said would be put in place in such an event.
Let us hope, however, that the signal sent on Friday by the leadership of unionism is a positive one. Speaking to journalists after Monday's meeting of the Programme for Government Committee which saw the DUP and a Sinn Féin leadership delegation engage with each other face-to-face, Gerry Adams said that progress was being made with the DUP. It was, he said a matter of 'inch by inch' which was progress considering that a unionist mantra for decades was one of 'not an inch'.