Belfast Telegraph

If Stormont is to be restored, Sinn Fein will have to go back much humbler than when they exited...

By Tom Kelly

Simon Cameron was an American politician from the Know Nothing Party who ended up as a US Secretary of State under Lincoln. He is credited with the quote that "an honest politician is one who, when bought, will stay bought".

So, whether a bribe, a bung or the biggest brown envelope in the history of recent British politics, the DUP are about to stay honest with the Tory government of Mrs May or whoever succeeds her for the next five years.

There will be no general election anytime soon. Mrs May's razor thin majority, thanks to the abstentionism of Sinn Fein and the opportunism of the DUP, has just widened.

The DUP will not welch on this deal because they know that they cannot afford to overreach their grasp. The government did not have to enter into a £1billion formal arrangement.

They could have governed without it as the DUP would have walked across hot coals to avoid strengthening Jeremy Corbyn's claim on the keys to Number 10.

The truth is that the DUP could have been taken for granted, but the besieged Mrs May was too nervous to proceed without the comfort of them. She had good reason - the Tory party is a treasonous group.

On the face of it this is a good deal. The Treasury money tree was shaken and additional funding fell out.

This will surely annoy the 13 Scottish Conservative MPs and poor old Wales as usual can whistle in the valleys for all the Tories care.

Now when it comes to money from the UK government, there's always a degree of smoke and mirrors. Once the press conference is over, the Whitehall and Treasury mandarins try to move existing funding around to make it look like new funding.

And they are skilled at it as the financial promises of Tony Blair and more particularly Gordon Brown to support our infrastructure never really materialised.

So, is this deal different? Well at first glance yes, because the money seems earmarked for specific projects rather than the usual black hole at Stormont.

The long-awaited York Street interchange seems to have its funding secured, which will be a relief to congestion-weary drivers in Belfast. The new city centre transport hub also appears to have been given the green light.

And it looks as if the much-needed upgrades to A5 or A6 are not left out either. The allocation to health is welcome, but it won't make a huge dent in hospital waiting lists or under-pressure GP services.

Given the track record of the DUP or Sinn Fein in government to put money behind either shared education or shared housing, not to mention their flagrant disregard for shared space when it comes to flags, just how they intend to spend an additional sum of money is questionable.

Frankly, shared space simply isn't a DUP or Sinn Fein priority as their respective political support does not come from such areas.

As the controversial Social Investment Fund (SIF) comes under increased scrutiny, it would be wise for the DUP to insist for more transparency in its operations before adding top-up funds to it.

Sensibly there is significant cash being found for superfast broadband across Northern Ireland and this will be music to the ears of Invest NI which struggles to bring investment outside of the greater Belfast pale. The enterprise zones are, by and large, a 1980s concept which were not that successful back then and there's no reason to suggest they would be any more so in 2017.

The education sector will be disappointed they didn't get more in the shake-up, especially as much of the Irish Republic's economic success came about through increased priority for both education and infrastructure.

The DUP insistence on keeping the triple lock on pensions and the winter fuel allowance across the UK will win them new friends everywhere and it shows how they have not forgotten the tolerance levels of their own working-class base towards Tory governments.

Perhaps, controversially, agreement on the Armed Forces Covenant may dilute any Sinn Fein enthusiasm for a return to the Stormont administration and its unlikely that any of the other Northern Ireland political parties are going to believe any piece of paper that says the DUP will be treated just like any other party involved in the Northern Ireland talks - when they clearly have unparalleled leverage on this current government.

The Sinn Fein prize of a border poll is now well and truly off the table for the duration of this Parliament which, ironically, will take us past the anniversary of the founding of Northern Ireland!

If Stormont is to be restored, Sinn Fein will require to go back much humbler than when they exited - that is, of course, if the Sinn Fein leadership believe it's worth it.

It's hard to see the nationalist electorate being happy with a double dose of non-jobbing at Stormont and Westminster. On the other hand, Sinn Fein know their electoral base.

To the DUP's credit, they kept focused on the big ticket items, both for the rest of the UK and for Northern Ireland. This deal marks a political highpoint for a party once renowned for saying No.

Belfast Telegraph

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