Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Little chance of compromise between such bitter political enemies

By Suzanne Breen

The Northern Ireland peace process is promoted as a model for conflict resolution across the globe. Had the world been watching yesterday, it would have seen a paradigm for how not to do politics.

Two big parties who, let's not forget, were joined at the hip in government for the past decade, are at each other's throats with a venom not witnessed since the institutions were set up.

And the UK Government is burying its head in the sand and pretending that a deal could be just around the corner.

Even if that was true, what are the odds that any Executive formed would last?

It's been increasingly obvious as these talks have progressed that there is zero political chemistry between the DUP and Sinn Fein these days.

'Marlene' is all but a distant memory. Few who have observed the exchanges between Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster during the negotiations believe that this is a relationship on which a stable administration working for everyone in Northern Ireland can be built.

Mrs Foster yesterday said that Sinn Fein's shopping list seems to get longer with every meeting.

Talks sources claim that, in reality, there is only one issue on which republicans are intent on delivering - an Irish Language Act.

For presentation purposes to the nationalist community, Sinn Fein needs a stand-alone act. Given that Dublin and the SDLP also support this position, it won't be backing down.

The DUP is in such a strong position that it can afford to compromise on this one.

Sure, there would be a ripple of hostility among some grassroots supporters, but the party has survived far worse over policing and justice issues.

With the Ulster Unionist Party now a shadow of its former self and Jim Allister's TUV still a one-man band despite its leader's strenuous efforts, there is nowhere for disgruntled DUP voters to go.

But the DUP doesn't see a reason why it should compromise.

Given its new found power at Westminster, the slippery slope to direct rule holds no short or medium-term concerns for the party.

Indeed, some of its MPs say: "Bring it on!"

While the opportunity to help allocate the £1 billion windfall secured from Downing Street appeals to Sinn Fein, the party can't sell a return to Stormont to its base without an Irish Language Act.

And the Government's refusal to backdate transparency on political donations to 2014 has increased speculation that side-deals have been done with the DUP. In those circumstances, Sinn Fein may consider it suicidal to return to Stormont any time soon.

Belfast Telegraph


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