Belfast Telegraph

Tedious game played to a bore draw

By Suzanne Breen

No sooner had the latest deadline for a deal to restore devolution passed than the Secretary of State set a new one.

If the DUP and Sinn Fein could form an Executive by the end of the month, James Brokenshire would withdraw his budget for Northern Ireland at Westminster, he pledged yesterday.

And so the monotonous merry-go-round that passes for politics here continues. Sometimes, political impasses are fascinating. They represent a vibrant clash of ideas and we wait with bated breath to see which side will triumph or gain ground first.

But if Carlsberg did political crises, it wouldn't do this one. It takes the dullness and dreariness of normal negotiations here to new levels. While Marquess of Queensberry rules prevailed over the past week with the DUP and Sinn Fein politely critical of each other, the gloves came off an inch or two yesterday.

Gregory Campbell and Michelle O'Neill sniped from different sides of the ring over who was to blame for the deadlock.

Sinn Fein appears closest to throwing in the towel on the talks.

Conor Murphy has already admitted that the longer they go on, the less credibility they have. Ms O'Neill said endless discussions without a conclusion weren't "sustainable".

Sinn Fein's attack position on its opponent's stance on the Irish language, equal marriage and other issues isn't principled.

For a decade, the party sat quite contently in government with those they now brand "DUP dinosaurs" and barely uttered a word of protest. An Acht na Gaelige wasn't in the programme for government.

Sinn Fein is merely responding to the rebellion of republican grassroots which occurred after years of DUP begrudgery were topped by Paul Givan's cut to Liofa funding.

The DUP and UUP totally fail to comprehend the disillusionment with Stormont there is among a significant swathe of the nationalist community.

This isn't policy being decided "in the Felons' Club" as some unionists have suggested. The apathy and anger extends far than that.

A year ago, an Irish Language Act wouldn't have caused the staunch opposition in the unionist base that it does now. The longer and louder Sinn Fein's calls for it have been, the greater the resistance to it has grown on the other side of the political divide.

Even if Arlene Foster wanted to concede a standalone act, she would seriously struggle to carry her own grassroots on this one.

A return to direct rule is the last thing the British government wants. London had hoped Northern Ireland was sorted. Mr Brokenshire's desperation for a deal, not generosity, has led him to extend the deadline.

Sinn Fein and the DUP both hold their annual conferences later this month and one school of thought suggests that an agreement is far more likely when they're out of the way.

But even if Michelle and Arlene do cobble some sort of deal together, the past and present behaviour of both parties gives little reason to believe any Executive would last, let alone flourish.

Belfast Telegraph


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