Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Constant squabbling suits DUP and Sinn Fein down to the ground

Former Secretary of State Lord Hain
Former Secretary of State Lord Hain
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

There is perhaps only one thing that the public would find more monotonous and frustrating than the endless Brexit debate - another lengthy round of Stormont talks.

The Secretary of State yesterday said she was proposing a "focused set" of round-table negotiations to restore devolution. She didn't set a date but Sinn Fein is claiming it won't be until after May's council elections.

Karen Bradley promised the talks would be short. By Northern Ireland standards, that means they'll wind up some time in 2020.

Sinn Fein and the DUP are still blaming each other for the political paralysis.

The DUP says it stands ready to form a power-sharing administration immediately and that Sinn Fein is holding Northern Ireland to ransom.

Sinn Fein claims the DUP's "toxic relationship" with the Government is the biggest obstacle to restoring devolution.

Expect both parties to go at it hammer and tongs in this vein until after the local government poll. There will be ongoing sniping over Brexit and the findings of the RHI inquiry. But in the end there will be a ceasefire because all roads lead back to Stormont. The chances of any new executive being significantly less dysfunctional than the last one aren't great, yet the lure of ministerial office will eventually triumph.

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In the meantime, the squabbling suits both parties just fine. Sinn Fein election posters can demand an Irish Language Act and same-sex marriage - even though under the draft deal the party reached with the DUP last year, it was content to re-enter the executive without the latter.

The DUP will of course use the republican bogeyman to once again galvanise the unionist vote.

Shadow Secretary of State Tony Lloyd yesterday criticised Mrs Bradley's "lack of energy" in bringing the parties together and asked if she honestly believed she could drive any new talks process forward. When the dialogue begins in two months' time, Mrs Bradley may not even still be in the job.

Former Secretary of State Lord Hain described the situation in Northern Ireland as "dire" and said the problem "will not be cracked" without the Prime Minister's personal involvement and "not just flying in for an odd hour here and there".

With the ongoing Brexit saga it's highly unlikely that Mrs May, or whoever succeeds her, will be devoting a significant chunk of their schedule to sitting down with Arlene and Michelle.

The DUP and Sinn Fein will be back together in Stormont eventually, but it will be a marathon, not a sprint, that gets them there.

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