So Sir Reg Empey has made it plain that, should the DUP strike a deal with Sinn Féin on policing and justice, Ulster Unionists will not necessarily snap to attention. It is not an extraordinary stance.
It is far more extraordinary that other parties complain on other occasions about being by-passed by Sinn Féin and the DUP, yet they’re prepared to accept, without conditions, any arrangement which the two parties might reach.
Policing and justice has acquired a status, actual and symbolic, which it scarcely deserves. Just because Sinn Féin determines that it is the must crucial issue at the Assembly, doesn’t necessarily mean that other parties become reckless renegades just because they do not share that analysis. It certainly doesn’t mean they are playing fast and loose with the principles of power-sharing.
Remarkably Alliance itself had previously indicated that it was not prepared to facilitate devolved justice, at any cost. The Ulster Unionist party is quite entitled to put a price on its cooperation and the SDLP would be advised to do likewise.
Both parties have complained that the current Executive is not a genuine exercise in power-sharing. They are consistently by-passed when crucial decisions are made. Here is a chance to demand that government in Northern Ireland requires genuine four party input from now on.
David Ford and his party might will have extracted their price for devolved policing and justice already. But it would be foolhardy for Sir Reg Empey to pre-emptively accept any dispensation which the carve-up coalition might concoct. The least we should expect from party leaders, sidelined by this process, is an attempt to keep their options open.