Belfast Telegraph

What this talks process needs is the chemistry we saw between Chuckle Brothers Martin and Ian

The Chuckle Sisters may be a step too far, but no agreement will survive without mutual respect, says Alban Maginness

Colum Eastwood is right to say that it was embarrassing for both Prime Minister Theresa May and Taioseach Leo Varadkar to travel to Stormont to seal a deal on restoration and to return home empty-handed. Whose fault that was remains to be seen, but at the moment it would seem to be a bout of stage-fright by some members of the DUP.

But if Monday's high-profile journeys were simply a delay on the return of the Executive and the Assembly, it will, despite the temporary embarrassment, be good news for all and everyone should welcome and support restoration.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein could then be rightly congratulated for reaching an agreement on the outstanding issues that have prevented the formation of the Executive. However, it will not be unreasonable for people to ask why it took over 400 wasteful and exhausting days to get a restoration.

Return to government will be a collective challenge to both parties to make work what seemed impossible just a week ago. It will not be easy, but with goodwill all things are possible in politics.

Both parties must remember that the power-sharing Executive is not just a coalition government among different parties, but in our situation, should be a genuine partnership between two political traditions - the unionist and nationalist traditions.

Realising this is key to making our unique institutions work. A return to a frosty co-existence will not be sustainable.

In all of this, compromise should not be a dirty word, for it is the essence of politics since time began. Politicians should be honest and brave enough to admit to their supporters that, for the sake of getting a deal, they have made compromises.

Without compromise, especially in a deeply divided society like ours, there would be no progress.

The Good Friday Agreement, the very basis for today's politics and institutions, was a huge compromise for everyone. It is on the basis of that agreement that we have a potential Executive and Assembly.

It is very easy to take a Nolan Show approach to all of this and to invite confrontational guests to tear apart the imaginary details of a draft agreement before it sees the light of day and is properly analysed.

To polarise opinion on radio, by asking the question "Which of the two parties has done a 'U-turn' in order to reach an agreement?", is political bear-baiting and damaging to good politics.

At a delicate moment it is sometimes better to hold back, because there are greater things at stake and the common good should be served.

If this process is successful, there is also a challenge for the other parties, particularly the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP, as to whether they join the Executive, or, as before, they opt for Opposition.

The onus is on them, as they are the only other parties entitled under the D'Hondt system, with a sufficient number of MLAs, to take up a ministerial portfolio in the Executive.

If they don't join the Executive, then they run the risk as being seen as having a 'dog in a manger' attitude and, thereby, undermining the restored institutions before they are up and running.

They will, of course, remember that it was their effectiveness and success as the Opposition in the last Assembly that unnerved Sinn Fein and caused them to take fright and, ultimately, scuttle the Executive.

The Alliance Party does not enjoy that privilege, although it could be in the running for the Justice Department, which is run separately from D'Hondt.

The alternative is the former Justice Minister, Independent Unionist Claire Sugden, who took the role after Alliance refused to accept the Justice portfolio.

Alliance may well feel that it is ultimately more advantageous for them to act as an unofficial Opposition within the Assembly and eventually escape from their permanently static political position.

There is no doubt there are signs that they seem to be making some inroads electorally within greater Belfast and beyond, as well.

The return of the Executive will be a major breakthrough, but the hard work will be in establishing mutual respect and goodwill.

If some of the chemistry that animated the Paisley-McGuinness partnership could be reinvented between O'Neill and Foster, much could be achieved.

The Chuckle Sisters may be too much to hope for.

But much hangs on this potential revival, as the reputation of politicians and politics has been hugely damaged over the past, sterile year and the public needs to be convinced that its elected politicians are there to serve the public good, not simply their warring parties.

Let's hope they get back to work.

Belfast Telegraph

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