‘But it seems a stretch to lambast Mr Cameron for doing his job as a unionist politician, which should be to find political ways to ensure Sinn Fein doesn’t end up the winner as the result of the failure of Unionism in Northern Ireland to get its electoral act together.’
The Conservatives are a Unionist party so there is no objection to their attending, especially as the Unionist cause is so disorganised. My objection was to its secrecy. Iris Robinson will tell you that there is no such thing as secrecy in Northern Irish politics. When discovered, this meeting would give Sinn Fein room to manoeuvre at Stormont whilst referring to Ulster’s bloody history, which is precisely what happened. Also, it is in the DUP’s interests to create the sense that they are the authors of a covert deal among Unionists: Robinson’s party is suffering electorally, losing voters to the resurgent Ulster Conservatives and Unionists and to the DUP splinter-group, the Traditional Unionist Voice. The Tories have played into the DUP’s hands and the nationalist community reacted as one would expect.
Cameron is adamant that his opposition behave as if they are a government. A convention has emerged that insists the British government acts as an honest broker between nationalists and loyalists. Having been caught apparently in cahoots with loyalists, Sinn Fein has a pretext to brand Cameron as biased if he forms a government – expect demands for concessions and immodestly veiled threats if they are denied; Ben Brogan’s right, Adams and Co are that devious. It was an honest mistake – there is no sinister deal - but the furtive little gathering at Hatfield House has potentially enormous consequences for the peace process and how a Cameron government manages it.