Belfast Telegraph

Back to work but there's very little appetite for it

By Suzanne Breen

It may have been the first day back at school for our politicians but they certainly didn't arrive at Stormont full of beans and raring to go.

Neither did the chance to get reacquainted with those whom they hadn't seen during the summer holidays fill them with excitement.

There were long faces and endless excuses as the parties gathered in Parliament Building's Great Hall to blame each other for the lack of progress. The day ended with the Secretary of State issuing a schoolmasterly threat to take action next month unless the squabbling stops and a deal is reached.

The problem is that there is neither sufficient carrot nor stick in James Brokenshire's warning.

The DUP and Sinn Fein both calculate that they have more to gain by sticking to their guns and seeing creeping direct rule than they have in compromising.

The unionist community has accepted, or been forced to live, with far greater challenges than an Irish Language Act. The scrapping of the RUC was a much more painful experience than any Acht na Gaeilge would ever be.

While soundings carried out by the DUP over the summer show grassroots opposition to such legislation, there is no credible home for any disgruntled party supporters - neither the UUP nor TUV are currently competitive.

The most they could realistically do is shout from the sidelines. Yet neither is there an overwhelming argument for Arlene Foster to make that leap. Her instinct tells her to play it safe.

The DUP knows the Westminster arithmetic could change yet it's still fairly comfortable in its newly influential position. It doesn't trust Gerry Adams and there is no pressing reason why it should take a gamble on him now.

The DUP's top brass genuinely believe Sinn Fein isn't interested in restoring devolution in the short-term. And it makes perfect sense for republicans to remain outside Stormont in the foreseeable future.

Nobody knows how Brexit will unfold and Sinn Fein doesn't want to be part of any administration overseeing a hardening of the border. Far better to be on the outside making political capital from it.

Similarly, a new executive would be implementing Tory cuts. Devolution won't be a magic wand against the austerity agenda. By pulling out of Stormont in January, Sinn Fein halted the growing disconnect between itself and its grassroots.

The prospect of the party back in office slashing budgets and axing jobs won't appeal to a leadership currently revelling in once again presenting itself as an anti-establishment voice.

Returning to government with the DUP would provide ammunition to the likes of People Before Profit to once again challenge Sinn Fein from the radical left.

Mr Brokenshire has effectively given the politicians to mid-October to reach a deal. Most likely we will hear the same old speeches and soundbites regurgitated over the next six weeks.

Public interest in yesterday's autumn opener was minimal. By the time we head towards Halloween, will anybody even be listening?

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