Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Don't expect any progress ahead of European poll

EU citizens are heading to the polls
EU citizens are heading to the polls
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The politicians gathering at Stormont today for a new round of talks will all make upbeat statements about the chances of progress.

Last week's council election results indicate that any foot-dragging or negativity could be punished by voters in the EU poll in a fortnight.

There is a mood on the streets to get a deal done. The problem is that both communities are as divided as ever over the precise details of what that deal should entail. Almost everybody wants Stormont back up and running, but on their terms.

So, despite the spin and soundbites that we will hear this afternoon, no progress on restoring devolution is likely before Northern Ireland goes to the polls again on May 23.

or a full breakdown visit our Election hub and check out the results from each council: Antrim and Newtownabbey --- Ards and North Down --- Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon --- Belfast --- Causeway Coast and Glens --- Derry and Strabane --- Fermanagh and Omagh --- Lisburn and Castlereagh --- Mid and East Antrim --- Mid Ulster --- Newry, Mourne and Down

Just imagine the DUP entering a European election having conceded a standalone Irish Language Act, or Sinn Fein facing the electorate without one?

Either option would be electoral suicide for our two biggest parties.

London and Dublin are trying to make this process appear all-inclusive. The smaller parties were shut out of the last one as the big two tried to hammer out a deal in endless bilateral meetings. This time, working groups involving all the parties will be set up to address the controversial issues.

Despite the window-dressing, let's not kid ourselves. The only imprimatur that matters on any deal is that of Sinn Fein and the DUP.

The working groups will get down to business tomorrow. As well as an Irish Language Act, they will focus on issues such as reforming Stormont's structures, including the petition of concern; a programme for government; and a Bill of Rights.

If a fully-fledged deal isn't a runner before the EU election, is behind-the-scenes progress more likely? Not really.

Neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein trust each other given how disastrously the last talks ended on Valentine's Day 2018.

Both sides understandably fear that any compromise they'd privately make would be leaked and damage them.

Despite the election of the DUP's first openly gay councillor, Alison Bennington, the party isn't on course to agree to finally legalise same-sex marriage.

Its position will remain that it doesn't have the numbers to successfully use the petition of concern to block the move at Stormont, anyway.

The DUP has long been keener than Sinn Fein to get back into government. Disappointing election results in Belfast and Derry will increase Sinn Fein's enthusiasm. But don't expect a deal any time soon. Today is for the optics only.

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