Irish Times view on the Stormont deal: Now to make the institutions work

Selling deals in North has always been at least as big an undertaking as negotiation

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, striding together towards the cameras with the illuminated Parliament Buildings as backdrop on Thursday night, have been a double act with symbolic and real heft. Photograph: Philip Magowan / Press Eye

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, striding together towards the cameras with the illuminated Parliament Buildings as backdrop on Thursday night, have been a double act with symbolic and real heft. Photograph: Philip Magowan / Press Eye

 

The New Decade, New Approach deal looks set to revive Stormont thanks to far-reaching promises – including cash which may ease hospital waiting-lists, provide nursing pay parity with Britain and deliver a medical school to greatly expand Derry’s Magee campus. The threat to withhold those funds has been as powerful as the big stick of another Assembly election.

Choreography mattered, as did personal chemistry. Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, striding together towards the cameras with the illuminated Parliament Buildings as backdrop on Thursday evening, have been a double act with symbolic and real heft.

Smith’s reproof for DUP foot-dragging helped erase the bad vibe of Conservative dependence on the DUP. The Coveney imprimatur counts with the nationalist community as evidence of official support for Irish identity in the north, as well as care for unionists.

British and Irish ministers harmoniously delivering their take on a deal was meant to engender trust and encourage mutually-suspicious northerners to sign up. Much in the deal is deliberately not spelled out. But if delivery of proposals on the Irish language happens it will heal a considerable sore.

The package as outlined should also remove fears, genuine and fomented, that anyone will be forced to learn the language or disadvantaged by quotas for Irish-speakers in public service employment.

The Foster-led DUP may dread a northern election slightly more than Sinn Féin, but both need the purpose and framework Stormont provides. Foster’s swift announcement that her MLAs and MPs welcomed what they had heard came well ahead of Michelle O’Neill’s statement that an Ard Chomhairle meeting would be decisive.

But then February 2018 saw Sinn Féin left in the lurch by a DUP retreat. Temptation to delay open acceptance until the very last moment on Monday has presumably been weighed against experience. In at least one previous negotiation insiders said delay “allowed the rats to get at” proposals.

Selling deals in Northern Ireland has always been at least as big an undertaking as negotiation. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson spent some time on radio insisting that a party veto could limit public service provision of Irish, where Sinn Féin voices tweeted support for provisions still unspecified.

Sustaining a revived Stormont may be as testing as the protracted negotiations. One poor omen was that the cross-community Alliance, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists and the Greens were sidelined to the end, yet Alliance and the SDLP have been far more vocal throughout about the need for real cooperation.

That is in sharp contrast with the excited welcome for an emergent centre vote in last month’s Westminster election.

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