Belfast Telegraph

Crunch time for politicians

YOU can almost hear the gnashing and grinding of teeth emanating from the politicians engaged in talks to rescue the ailing Northern Ireland political process as a deal seems tantalisingly close, yet still out of touching distance.

As parties march to the microphones with grim faces and set jaws, once more the hints are dropped about what may or may not happen, while the rest of the population wend on their merry way.

The clocks went back, but did the politicians move forward? With the DUP ministers tucked back behind ministerial desks, it is a sign of some semblance of progress, leaving all to wonder what is now holding things up if the vexed paramilitary question has been put to bed, for now.

Most of the commentariat seem to think it comes down to cold hard cash. This has been reinforced by DUP leader Peter Robinson’s comments on tax credits and various mutterings by Sinn Féin spokespeople about the Tory welfare reform plans.

If – and it is a big if – the parties can wrestle out of the Treasury concessions, then both the DUP and Sinn Féin could both emerge with some political ‘cover’.

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists are in a pickle over party leader Mike Nesbitt’s comments on gay marriage - ahead of Monday’s debate in Parliament Buildings. Mr Nesbitt said that he opposes it. Having argued during the UUP conference that those who stand against same sex marriage are on the “wrong side of history”, his stance is, to say the least, confusing.

The SDLP’s leadership battle, with Alasdair McDonnell facing a challenge from young gun Colum Eastwood, gathered pace - as party grandee Seamus Mallon backed Eastwood just two short weeks before the vote at the party’s annual conference in Armagh.

But what has seemingly riled a lot of people this week is the meteoric four-week rise of Emma Pengelly. Four weeks ago the former special adviser was co-opted into the Assembly and this week took up the post of DUP junior minister.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the circumstances, we can be sure that the former barrister should be very much in command of her brief; having spent eight years working alongside the First Minister.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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