Northern Ireland: time for deal running out

The DUP and Sinn Féin must bend their positions to reflect the greater good

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, and Michelle O’Neill, leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester earlier this month. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, and Michelle O’Neill, leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester earlier this month. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

 

Because of the intransigent negotiating positions of both the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin towards the re-establishment of an Executive, the people of Northern Ireland are being denied the benefits of a properly functioning government. Tribal politics and sectarian-style considerations are threatening to overwhelm the commitments to peace, diversity and compromise that formed a basis for the Belfast Agreement.

It does not have to be like this. Northern Ireland’s leading parties have more to gain fromcompromise than they have to lose. After all, they were elected to provide stable and effective government by their constituents. Instead of shouldering these responsibilities, however, the major parties have retreated into sterile nit-picking over what might constitute an acceptable compromise on language legislation.

Last week, it seemed that agreement might be reached. Both DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, appeared willing to fudge some of their more intransigent statements. But elements in both parties were less amenable to this approach and stalemate followed. A lack of trust has infused relations between the parties, and while Foster and O’Neill are believed to have established an improved working relationship, much remains to be done.

Time is running out. Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has allowed the parties three weeks in which to resolve their differences and form an Executive. He told a House of Commons committee yesterday that, if they fail, he will be “forced” to impose a budget on Northern Ireland. Such a development, he added, would represent “a glide path towards greater and greater UK government intervention”. Earlier, in the context of Brexit, a senior civil servant declined to rule out a return of British troops to the Border.

Instead of concentrating on the issues that divide them, the DUP and Sinn Féin should consider the needs of their constituents. Recent cuts to health services and education, amongst other matters, will have long-term consequences unless they are addressed. A functioning Executive would be in a position to disburse additional funding secured by the DUP in return for its confidence-and-supply agreement with the British government. That would provide an important impetus for an under-achieving economy with a growth rate of one per cent.

Further delay and political stalling will encourage extremists in both communities who peddle the language of division and strife. Peace should not be taken for granted. While it has transformed Northern Ireland, it remains a vulnerable construct. The parties have a responsibility to protect it, and that requires them to bend their positions to reflect the greater good.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.