Belfast Telegraph

Why Michelle O’Neill's reported compromise was overruled by hardliners

By Suzanne Breen

It's not like we haven't been here before. In autumn 2014 it was reported that Martin McGuinness had reached a deal with Peter Robinson on welfare reform, but this was overturned by others in Sinn Fein.

Fast-forward three years and the same storyline is surfacing, but with different players.

It was claimed yesterday that Michelle O'Neill was overruled by senior republicans on her attempted compromise with Arlene Foster.

Mrs O'Neill has denied the Irish Times report, but senior sources in both governments say it's "bang on the money".

Ultimately, if the late Deputy First Minister couldn't deliver something he had agreed, Sinn Fein's new Northern Ireland leader, with her lack of a military CV, is far less likely to be able to.

Stormont sources say Mrs O'Neill and her key advisers in the talks have been "100% genuine" in their commitment to reaching a deal with the DUP.

Neither is Gerry Adams painted as the bogeyman thwarting an agreement to restore power-sharing.

The Sinn Fein president, they claim, has adapted a pragmatic approach, believing that his party's chances of performing well in the next Dail elections would be greatly enhanced by being in government across the border.

The talks insiders point to other Sinn Fein figures whom they claim are of a more ideological bent and believe that Stormont has little to offer the party.

Whether there is anybody left at a senior level in Sinn Fein with hardcore principles on anything is debatable, but unionist sources certainly believe that's the case.

Whatever is going on behind the scenes in the republican movement, several sources relay a similar chain of events at the talks. Senior Sinn Fein figures met late last week and Mrs O'Neill returned to Stormont to remove everything from the table that she had previously placed on it. The Belfast Telegraph understands that Sinn Fein's talks team had made significant compromises in the negotiations.

The proposals were withdrawn ahead of Saturday's ard chomhairle meeting in Dublin.

Despite the setback, the DUP's reaction has been restrained.

In her speech to the party faithful in Tyrone last night, Mrs Foster referred to "parties playing games with proposals put forward one day and withdrawn the next".

Given the circumstances, that was a subdued response.

The negotiations are continuing and DUP sources still firmly believe a deal will be reached, although they won't put a time frame on it.

"Arlene wouldn't be making a four-hour daily commute from Fermanagh and spending so much time in the talks if she wasn't hugely committed," said a party insider.

Of course, the stakes are high for Mrs Foster as, without a return to power-sharing, she becomes a far less significant player on the political stage.

Sinn Fein's U-turn on the proposals may be down to feedback suggesting it would struggle to sell them to its base.

The DUP's success in denying Sinn Fein any victories in 10 years of sharing power has increased republican grassroots hostility to Stormont.

The crocodiles could be coming home to roost.

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