Belfast Telegraph

Stormont deadlock: New year, but old hostilities remain thinly disguised

By Suzanne Breen

A new year, a new dawn. That might apply to other parts of the world but in Northern Ireland the same dreary landscape of the past 12 months is showing no sign of disappearing in 2018.

A temporary truce may have been in place over Christmas, but the DUP and Sinn Fein returned to old hostilities with relish this week.

In her New Year message, Arlene Foster stressed that her party was ready to re-enter government immediately but Sinn Fein was now refusing to even talk.

"Their long list of red lines are prioritised over jobs, schools and hospitals," she said.

Michelle O'Neill accused the DUP of setting "their face against the people and against progressive politics".

A new round of talks will likely begin within a fortnight.

Despite their public stances, a deal between the two parties for which pragmatism triumphs over everything can't be completely ruled out.

Yet it's currently hard to envisage.

The Secretary of State has indulged both parties for an unbelievably lengthy period but he can't continue waffling about glide paths forever. The appointment of direct rule ministers is surely becoming inevitable.

NHS reform is urgently needed. James Brokenshire will now adopt a tougher approach regarding the next round of talks with the stick of cutting MLAs' pay featuring prominently.

Gerry Adams is to step down as Sinn Fein president before the end of next month and one school of thought suggests that he won't want to exit the stage against a backdrop of political failure at Stormont.

Recently released Irish state papers from 1987 claimed Mr Adams' personal political ambitions were important in shaping the republican movement's strategy.

Talks insiders stress that it was obvious from the last round of negotiations that Ms O'Neill and Conor Murphy were genuinely committed to getting the institutions up and running and wielding political power again.

Yet entering a coalition government with a DUP which holds such massive influence at Westminster is far from ideal for Sinn Fein.

The party is under no pressure whatsoever to compromise from within its own community.

Attitudes to the DUP have hardened further following recent Brexit tussles and an increasing number of middle-class nationalists are now also railing loudly against Arlene Foster and her party.

On both sides of the political divide, disillusionment with devolution is at an all-time high. People have very little faith that any new power-sharing administration would deliver concrete benefits.

The suggestion of moving the talks to the five-star Rockliffe Hall complex in Darlington has been wisely rejected by Mrs Foster.

The idea of our politicians swanning around an English stately home while public services here deteriorate with every passing day was insane.

Such big-stage settings are totally out of step with public sentiment.

As the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaches, scepticism and cynicism about the political institutions that the deal established have never been greater.

Belfast Telegraph

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