North talks: One last push

The prospect of each party having to cope with their worst case scenario might prompt the two parties to find a path to agreement

 

The coming weeks will tell whether there is any future for devolved government in Northern Ireland as one last effort is made to see if there is any basis for agreement between the parties at Stormont.

It would be an unforgivable abdication of responsibility by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin if they fail to find a way of restoring the power-sharing institutions now in abeyance for almost a year.

The question facing the British and Irish governments is the best way of putting pressure on the two big parties in the North to make concessions so they can work together again.

The two parties have already staked out positions on what should happen if the talks between them, due to start in the coming weeks, should fail. DUP leader Arlene Foster has called for the imposition of direct rule from Westminster while outgoing Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has called for the Irish and British governments to take a joint role in the governance of the North. Under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, devolved government is a matter for the British government and the Northern parties but if the agreement effectively lapses, that arrangement will not be sufficient.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was adamant in recent interviews that the Government will seek to have the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference convened if there is no breakthrough. He suggested that body would allow the two governments to implement key elements of the Belfast Agreement in the absence of an Assembly or an executive.

He was emphatic that the Belfast Agreement provided that matters which were not devolved should be dealt with by the Intergovernmental Conference.

Irish Government involvement in the running of the North is anathema to the DUP, just as direct rule from Westminster is to Sinn Féin.

Hopefully the prospect of each having to cope with their worst case scenario might prompt the two parties to find a path to agreement.

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