BY JOHN COULTER AT STORMONT
DUBLIN – Ian Paisley senior may be hauled out of semi-political retirement to save the rapidly crumbling Northern Assembly, a well-placed source close to the Downing Street talks claimed last night.
The Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen have held crisis talks in London to avert the Stormont political meltdown.
Suspicions of a Christmas crisis were first unveiled in mid September, and the talks source was adamant the British and Irish governments’ patience with the stalling Executive was ‘wearing dangerously thin’.
The source close to the Downing Street talks said: ‘There’s no doubt the entire Assembly process will be in deep trouble by the Christmas recess.
‘Mr Brown and the Taioseach are considering two options – both very extreme.
‘One is to ask Dr Paisley to step into the breach and become some kind of intermediary between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
‘I know his opponents made fun of his relationship with Mr McGuinness, calling them the Chuckle Brothers. But at least he got devolved government working in Northern Ireland.
‘The second option is to allow the parties to re-negotiate the St Andrews Agreement, ending in a St Andrews Mark Two.
‘I know you have been told that Sinn Fein could pull down the Assembly by next February, but I think things have deteriorated rapidly in Northern Ireland since you were told that.
‘Even today, we thought things would collapse early in the new year with fresh elections in March to a new Assembly.
‘But even that has changed. The real meltdown is starting to emerge. If a solution cannot be reached within days, the British and Irish administrations will get so fed up with things at Stormont that the whole process will be abandoned.
‘Stormont will not be replaced by Direct Rule, but by a Joint Authority between Westminster and the Dail.
‘Gordon and Brian are not happy with Peter Robinson’s handling of the DUP as a party, in spite of all the public showing off at his party conference.
‘We (Downing Street ) have already been informed that at least three senior DUP politicians are on the verge of defecting to the extreme Traditional Unionist Voice.
‘The DUP is trying to do a deal with the Ulster Unionists to get them to weigh in behind them to prop up their shaky situation in the Executive.
‘Our (Downing Street) understanding of this situation is that the UUP will not play ball with the DUP because of recent comments made against the Ulster Unionists by certain DUP politicians – especially Mr Donaldson.
‘I personally think the Paisley option is the best one. He made devolution with Sinn Fein work. What I would like to convince Gordon and Brian about is what to call the role, so that it doesn’t come across as a coup against Robinson.
‘In spite of his age, Paisley still has a way with words which encourages republicans to do business with his supporters. To call Paisley First Minister might be too big a slap in the face for Robinson.
‘But the DUP may have to agree to some radical changes of faces if they are to save devolved government at Stormont. This is no joke. Stormont really is on the rocks.
‘The mood in there ( Downing Street ) is one of a determination that they will not dance to the Robinson and DUP tunes. It’s really a case of get it settled – perhaps under a St Andrews 2, or Joint Authority,’ said the source close to the Downing Street talks.