Belfast Telegraph

With light at end of tunnel on talks front, the parties must now convince us they are serious about making Stormont work

Editor's Viewpoint

The last year has been a surreal period in the political life of Northern Ireland with the collapse of devolution and the reluctance of the UK Government to reintroduce direct rule. The result has been a virtually rudderless province with civil servants being forced to act like politicians, a role that is the antithesis of all they stand for.

But now, when it seemed we were stuck endlessly in a slough of despair, there is an unexpected sense of optimism that the DUP and Sinn Fein are about to sign a new deal that would allow them to restore Stormont.

Both parties need to be seen to be serious about devolution. It does not look good that a party which is keeping Theresa May in power at Westminster is not exercising power in its home patch.

And Sinn Fein knows that as it prepares to anoint a new leader it must show itself as a party capable and willing to be a partner in any future coalition in the Republic, a role it has declined to exercise on this side of the border for 12 months.

So what shape could a new deal take? Will there be a portfolio of Language Acts to get over the obstacle of a stand-alone Irish Language Act? Will same-sex marriage legislation be left to the will of a restored Assembly? And will the controversial petition of concern, which has been abused in the past, be reformed?

Any new administration will have to be headed by the DUP leader Arlene Foster in spite of Sinn Fein's initial objections to her when devolution collapsed. She leads the largest party, even if the unionist majority at Stormont was wiped out in the last Assembly election.

If the politicians go back to Stormont they will find a series of pressing problems ranging from health to infrastructure, from education to the arts. Our form of devolution based on the Good Friday Agreement may be imperfect, but it is the best solution available. The parties facing each other across the negotiating table will just have to accept that power-sharing is as good as it gets here - whatever they think of each other.

Belfast Telegraph

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