Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Irish parliamentary party

The Times of London quasi-blogging of Tony Blair's defeat in the House of Commons on Wednesday over the 90-day detention period for terrorism suspects notes the evolving possibility, ultimately not fulfilled, that Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party would vote with the Government:

3.15pm -- In the last few minutes, members of the DUP have been seen going into a huddle with Peter Hain, Northern Ireland Secretary. Could a deal be on the cards? ...

4.30pm -- Peter Hain is looking pretty happy after his meeting with the DUP. Does this mean a Blair-saving deal has been done?

6.15pm -- The Government failed to do the deal with the DUP, who voted against the Government

The margin of defeat exceeded the size of the DUP vote, but one does wonder what the outlines of a deal might have been. It's possible that the DUP looked for concessions on the "on-the-run" amnesty bill, which will cover terrorism offences related to Northern Ireland that were committed before 1998 by people currently at large. Indeed, getting that bill through Parliament is going to be another tricky proposition for Blair. While there's unlikely to be sufficient outrage in the Labour ranks to block it, the House of Lords may well. In fact, the DUP will have some seats in the Lords by then, adding to the problems.

At that point Blair will face the same issue that Charles Kennedy challenged him on yesterday -- whether he would use the Parliament Act to ram it through. The two situations make clear how difficult a deal with the DUP was always going to be: Blair needed their support for a toughening of anti-terrorism legislation now, but will be going over their heads on what they see as their home turf in a few months' time. In keeping with the purely speculative tone of this post, perhaps the DUP was looking for some input on events which would constitute "glorification of terrorism", a section of the bill that did pass.

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