Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Negotiations likely to be as torturous and tedious as previous ones

Journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead during rioting in Derry last week
Journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead during rioting in Derry last week
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The British and Irish governments are aiming to swiftly build on what they hope is powerful momentum to restore power-sharing at Stormont after the killing of Lyra McKee.

The fresh talks process, which is set to be announced this afternoon, will begin in less than a fortnight.

But don't necessarily expect rapid results. These talks to re-establish the Assembly and Executive are likely to be as torturous and tedious as the previous ones.

Since the last effort to end the political stalemate broke down on St Valentine's Day last year, there has been no bridging of the gap between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

They were on the cusp of a deal when the DUP negotiators took cold feet at the eleventh hour, fearing they could not sell what was on offer to their grassroots.

Far from preparing their base for a compromise, both parties have spent the last 14 months bickering with increasing intensity over Brexit and everything else.

Fr Martin Magill's passionate words at Lyra's funeral did put pressure on all the political leaders assembled at St Anne's Cathedral.

The cameras captured some squirming in their pews as the priest chastised them, but it is naive to think that the death of the 29-year-old journalist will be by itself a game-changer.

The DUP and Sinn Fein nodded in agreement with the cleric who urged them back to work - they could hardly do anything else - but by the following day the verbal warfare had resumed.

Arlene Foster made Michelle O'Neill an offer she knew she couldn't accept - the immediate restoration of devolution with a separate process to address the contentious issues.

Sinn Fein repeated its Irish Language Act and same-sex marriage demands. Both parties will of course greet today's announcement with positive words.

While discussions will begin in about 10 days, significant movement is unlikely before the European elections on May 23.

If both parties perform strongly in next Thursday's council poll, they have less incentive to compromise. But a bad or so-so day will pull them back to Stormont much more quickly.

Canvassers from all the parties report deep frustration from people on the doorsteps.

Whether that actually causes voters to switch parties, and who gets their vote out best, remain the key questions.

I've long believed that all roads lead back to Stormont for the DUP and Sinn Fein. Ultimately, they are at heart pragmatists who want to wield power. The election results will just determine whether it's sooner or later that we see Arlene and Michelle become the new sister act in town.

Belfast Telegraph


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