Belfast Telegraph

DUP and Sinn Fein must restore power sharing or face angry voters: Tom Kelly

Round table talks at Stormont House before Christmas failed to secure a breakthrough (Liam McBurney/PA)
Round table talks at Stormont House before Christmas failed to secure a breakthrough (Liam McBurney/PA)
Talks have resumed to break the deadlock at Stormont
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

The DUP and Sinn Fein must make a deal to restore power sharing or face further damaging losses in an Assembly election, former Northern Ireland Office adviser Tom Kelly has warned.

Writing in The Irish Times, Mr Kelly said that the DUP's "hubris over Brexit" and the limited appeal of Sinn Fein's abstentionism which led to a reduction in the party's vote share in the general election, means that both parties will not want to face the electorate any time soon.

"Fresh Assembly elections, conducted under proportional representation, are only likely to inflict further damaging losses," Mr Kelly said.

Mr Kelly, who worked at Downing Street from 2001 to 2007 and was the prime minister's official spokesperson, said that Boris Johnson's government should use its newly won majority to put pressure on the DUP and Sinn Fein to come to a deal.

He said: "The British government, in particular, must be prepared to use the leverage it now has to persuade the parties to make the necessary compromises in the talks process now under way again.

"That means putting the clear majority Boris Johnson won at the election to work. He shouldn’t underestimate the additional power that gives him in the negotiations."

The Prime Minister should also use his leverage to insist on "significant changes" to the way the Good Friday Agreement was being implemented, Mr Kelly argues.

"Not just by the DUP but also Sinn Fein," he added.

"Its command-and-control approach which, effectively, shut out the other parties must end."

Mr Kelly called for greater accountability to the Assembly and the for the Petition of Concern, which allowed parties to veto any decision they did not like, to be dropped.

He added: "People are fed up hearing their politicians blame each other for not dealing with those issues. They want them to get back to work.

"And that message seems to have come across loud and clear to the parties on the doorstep in December."

Mr Kelly said that the circumstances the parties find themselves in is reason for optimism that the Assembly could finally be restored after almost three years of stalemate.

He added: "In Northern Ireland pessimism is always easy. Cynicism is bred in the bones – and with good reason. But this election has shown that change can happen. That there are now limits to the polarising effect of the two traditions and that there is a viable centre ground tradition which is neither Orange or Green."

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