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Santa Coming Early

Despite the summer recess, Political journalist and Unionist Revisionist Dr John Coulter casts an optimistic eye on progress to establish the much coveted power-sharing Executive.

Dr John Coulter • 7 August 2006

Santa looks set to come early for the North's cash-strapped Stormont members with strong hints the British Government will extend the life of the suspended Assembly to after Christmas.

The 108 MLAs have received formal letters from Northern Secretary Peter Hain telling them to sack their staff after the 24 November deadline when their lucrative salaries and expenses will be chopped.

However, well-placed Stormont sources have told me negotiations to set up a power-sharing Executive after the November deadline will be extended to 31 December before the Assembly is finally axed.

However, it is unlikely the cash will flow again after 24 November until a new Executive is formed.

The Governments are hoping Unionists and Republicans can reach a deal on the Executive before the November deadline.

With Stormont in summer recess, the main stumbling block to progress would appear to be the reluctance of religious zealots in Ian Paisley's DUP to strike a deal with Sinn Fein.

Stormont sources say the peace process is log jammed over the issue of policing. Sinn Fein still refuses to join the Northern Policing Board, and unless Republicans take their seats on the body, Paisley is unlikely to risk cutting the deal.

A major problem is that Paisley's highly volatile religious fundamentalist faction holds power in the party. A DUP/Sinn Fein Executive could fatally split Paisley's party with ultra Right-wingers quitting the DUP to form a new hardline Unionist movement under the leadership of popular DUP MEP Jim Allister.

Three factions presently comprise the DUP – Paisley's ruling fundamentalists; pro-deal modernisers around deputy boss Peter Robinson, and Allister's grassroots hard Right supporters.

From 25 November to 31 December, Stormont sources claim while MLAs will not be paid, negotiations will continue, but the Assembly will exist in name only.

Indeed, they claim negotiations will still continue with the parties from January 2007 until May 2007 even with the Assembly axed.

If an Executive is agreed before the end of May 2007, the original Assembly elected in November 2003 will be recalled and given a year to 'bed in' before fresh elections in May 2008.

If there's no Executive by May 2007, elections will be called in the hope voters will abandon the DUP within Unionism because nothing has been achieved.

During this timeframe, the cross-border bodies – and especially the British Irish Inter-parliamentary body – will be strengthened.

However, Stormont sources claim if it appears there is little hope of any deal by Easter 2007, the elections plan itself could be scrapped and joint authority of the North by Dublin and London introduced instead of the present Direct Rule from Westminster.

Immense pressure will now be heaped on the DUP and Paisley himself to deal before November's cut-off date. Aged nearly 81, Paisley will surely be pondering his legacy to Unionism.

Significantly, whether he dies, retires or follows his wife, Eileen, into the British House of Lords is not an issue. He does not want to risk leaving a fatally split party which erupts into a bitter leadership civil war between the DUP's three factions.

Another key pressure point on Paisley will be the fate of his fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church which he founded in 1952 – almost two decades before he formed the DUP in 1971.

Known as the Free P's, Paisley had already cut his teeth as a Hell fire preacher before becoming a firebrand Unionist politician.

Unlike mainstream Irish Presbyterianism which elects its Moderator annually, Paisley has been life-long Moderator of the Free Church. But which is more important to Paisley – his Christian faith or his Unionist politics?

With an estimated membership of some 14,000 across the North, a number of churches in the Republic, Britain and North America, along with a missionary outreach in Africa, he will not want a DUP-style power struggle to engulf the Free Church.

If Paisley could cut a deal which maintains unity in the DUP, then retire to the British Lords, it would give him time to ensure a smooth leadership transition in the Free Church.

His nightmare scenario would be internal strife within both party and Church. He can avoid the latter by settling the former.

Like the party, three factions have emerged within the Free Church over more than half a century of its existence.

The controlling faction is firmly behind Paisley believing in mixing both politics and religion. But a minority faction wants to divorce a post-Paisley Free Church from politics, believing the image of the Church as the DUP at prayer has hindered its Christian outreach work, especially in the Republic.

A third faction wants to develop more formal links with 'born again' Christians from other Protestant Churches in the North, such as the Baptists, Elim Pentecostalists, Free and Independent Methodists, and the Plymouth and Exclusive Brethren.

This faction would like to see the formation of a Pan Biblical Front with other Protestant denominations.

In the past, the Free Church has frowned heavily on relationship with other Churches and has been openly critical of the so-called Big Three Protestant denominations – Presbyterianism, Methodism and the Church of Ireland.

Among the leading contenders at this stage in the battle to succeed Paisley as Moderator are the Free Church's main media face, Rev David McIlveen of Belfast; Gospel-singing South Antrim MP Rev William McCrea; Paisley's son Kyle, and former Elim pastor Rev David McConaghie.














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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

13 August 2006

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"Let the Fight Go On"
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Apology Owed
The Family of Volunteer Patsy O'Hara, INLA

Right the Wrong
Harry Boland

It's Who You Talk To
Dr John Coulter

As They Were Made They Were Matched
Liam O Comain

Poacher Turned Gamekeeper
John Kennedy

Criminality Figures Do Not Add Up
David Adams

The Siege of Derry
Anthony McIntyre

Repeat After Me: No Gods, No Masters
Mick Hall

Dual Presidency More Realistic
Nathan Dowds

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 2
Michael Gillespie

Santa Coming Early
Dr John Coulter

Media Matters
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Light, Freedom & Song: A Cultural History of Modern Irish Writing
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Pass the Gravy
John Kennedy

ILIR is Blowing the Green Card Game for the Irish
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From Belfast to the Middle East
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Manifesto of the Third Camp
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3 August 2006

A United Ireland or Nothing
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Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 1
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High Noon
John Kennedy

Fest or Flop
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Irish and Republican Music
Ray McAreavey

Qana Massacre again: Foreign and Domestic Enemies of our Constitution
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Israel Murders UN Observers
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Managing Debate
Mick Hall

4 Horsemen
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The Evil That Men Do
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Chris Petit's Secret History: The Psalm Killer
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Soldier of the Legion of the Rearguard
Liam O Ruairc

Football and the Fifth Commandment
Eamon Sweeney

Don't Let Us Down
Dr John Coulter

Human Rights Forum
Meeting Announcement

Billy Mitchell
Anthony McIntyre



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