Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: New Decade, New Approach, old story

Two big parties look set to return to Stormont imminently and form an executive, writes our political editor.

Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith parade the deal for the press. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith parade the deal for the press. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

It's called New Decade, New Approach, but this is really the 2018 Stormont deal for slow-learners.

There is no standalone Irish Language Act but Sinn Fein leaders are masters at managing their grassroots. I suspect they will have an easier job flogging this deal to their base than their DUP counterparts.

The blueprint falls far short of the commitments made by the British government on the Irish language in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

The proposed Irish Language Commissioner seems fairly toothless – they will have powers to advise but not to compel. There is nothing on bi-lingual road signs. Many of the measures secured to advance Irish - including the commissioner role - are also there for Ulster-Scots.

Change to the petition of concern is minor. The threshold remains 30 signatures. The governments make much of the fact that it now must be triggered by two or more parties. That’s no real reform at all as Assembly arithmetic already makes it so.

Supporters of same-sex marriage and abortion reform will be grateful for Westminster’s intervention on these issues last year because judging by the minimal movement in these proposals, there was no chance of such sweeping changes in any Stormont deal.

From a unionist viewpoint, there is nothing in this agreement that stops Sinn Fein again collapsing the institutions.

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The Orange Order has voiced serious concerns about the Irish language proposals. Some loyalists are accusing the DUP of treachery.

But that party’s leadership knows it won’t have to face an election for another two years. Anyway, it’s currently more focussed on winning back the moderate unionist support it lost so heavily in last month’s Westminster election.

Despite the grandiose title, there is nothing earth-shattering in the governments’ agreement except the promise of extra cash.

It is very hard for either the DUP or Sinn Fein to justify three years of no government - that has brought public services here to their knees - for what they’ve secured in this deal. Ordinary folk in Northern Ireland have paid a very hefty price.

The two big parties look set to return to Stormont imminently and form an executive. Good intentions will undoubtedly be aired. But ultimately there is nothing at the heart of this document which guarantees that Stormont, or the Sinn Fein-DUP duo, will operate any differently this time.

When the gloss wears off New Decade, New Approach, it could well just be the same old story.

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