Tone of SF ardfheis where Gerry Adams will outline future intentions important
Mood at DUP gathering also key to any future powersharing negotiations
The breakdown of the powersharing talks has been linked to a “historic” speech from Gerry Adams at the Sinn Féin ardfheis in Dublin on Saturday when he declares his future intentions. Photograph: Mark Marlow/PA
The general reaction to the collapse of the DUP-Sinn Féin talks was one of weariness rather than shock and anger, which tells a lot about the current state of Northern Ireland’s politics.
Citing Enoch Powell’s famous line about political careers, Eastwood said: “If rumours are right Gerry Adams’s career is going to end in failure this weekend.” There is a certain truth to Eastwood’s statement.
Sinn Féin has lots of seats in Westminster, the Assembly and Leinster House. It will not sit in the House of Commons, the Assembly is currently bust, and it cannot find a coalition partner in the Dáil.
Senior Sinn Féin people say they would preferred a pre-ardfheis deal with the DUP, but they could not get it over the line on the back of well-ventilated disagreements over the Irish language Act and same-sex marriage.
If Saturday will be a full or partial valedictory for the Sinn Féin president, he will not be able to boast about a return to powersharing politics in his farewell speech.
Adams left all the talking yesterday to Northern leader Michelle O’Neill. London, acting in concert with Dublin, should impose an Irish language Act and same-sex marriage legislation, she said.
The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, one of the creations of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, should somehow be used to implement its demands, she said.
That would certainly get the parties off the hook. Perhaps deep down it might even suit DUP leader Arlene Foster that such controversial issues for her base are taken out of her hands.
However, it seems improbable that British prime minister Theresa May would do such a thing when she is dependent on the DUP’s 10 House of Commons MPs to stay in power.
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry suggested letting an independent talks chairman judge finally on what constitutes a reasonable deal. Such a proposition has merit, and may well be considered by Dublin and London.
Following months of talks since the late Martin McGuinness walked away from his post as deputy first minister, there is not much left to negotiate, and the two sides were close just weeks ago.
However, a deal did not happen. Both parties had to take risks with their grassroots, but Foster felt she had to take the biggest gamble and could not make that leap of faith.
So, while O’Neill has bounced the ball into the governments’ court, their tactic for the moment is to bounce it back to the parties. It is all glacial and very tedious.
While Northern Ireland is “on a slippery slope to full and formal direct rule”, Dublin and London will keep a close eye on this weekend’s Sinn Féin ardfheis and the DUP’s gathering a week later.
Tone will be key. Is the language used so harsh and recriminatory that it rules out a deal, or will both of them be careful and leave just enough room for more negotiation.