Describing the content of an interview with Peter Robinson’s First Ministerial partner, Martin McGuinness, Belfast Telegraph journalist Noel McAdam writes,
“the senior Sinn Fein politician repeatedly attacked his other Executive co-parties, Ulster Unionists and the SDLP, but talked up what he argues is the increasing proven ability of his party and the DUP to reach difficult decisions.”
The interview is just the latest evidence that the relationship between Sinn Féin and the DUP bears all the characteristics of a genuine, as well as a de facto, coalition, between two parties whose outlooks are surprisingly similar.
The two parties’ leaders each view government as an exercise in horse trading between two communities. Both believe that other, smaller parties’ roles should be confined to assuming collective responsibility for anything the larger pair decides between them.
Neither likes being held to account by the Assembly or even submitting to meaningful scrutiny by members of the executive. Both are inveterate centralisers, devoted to concentrating power at the top, preferably in the ‘semi detached politburo’ of the First Minister’s Office.
It infuriates McGuinness and Robinson alike, that the Ulster Unionists and SDLP, whilst taking up ministerial positions, insist on pointing out where they have had no input and where they disagree with the ‘ourselves alone’ coalition.
It begins to look too much like politics and democracy, rather than sectarian carve-up, when executive members demand to have a debate, or scrutinise legislation, or have a say in decision making.
If the two parties were a little more honest and a little less Stalinist, perhaps they would admit their meeting of minds. The people of Northern Ireland could choose whether they wanted the carve-up coalition in government and an official opposition could hold it to account.
Of course, come election time, each of these easy bedfellows has to claim that it will ‘smash’ the other.