Power-sharing must be restored
Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, with British prime minister Theresa May. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/PA Wire
The re-establishment of a power-sharing Executive and a functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland are needed to ensure political stability. Both communities are looking to their elected representatives to defend their economic and social interests during the coming Brexit negotiations and, more importantly, to protect a peace process that has transformed quality of life. Party leaders will have to swallow hard and make difficult compromises.
Having come through an election campaign that concentrated on Northern Ireland’s constitutional position and served to eliminate Ulster Unionist and SDLP representation at Westminster, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) unexpectedly found itself holding the balance of power. It is now capable of influencing Brexit negotiations in favour of its constituents and providing a counter-balance to those within the Conservative Party who oppose common travel arrangements and would opt out of the single market. In these circumstances – and despite deep-seated differences – Sinn Féin has compelling reasons to cooperate with the DUP and defend Irish economic interests on both sides of the Border.
The DUP and Sinn Féin strengthened their positions by concentrating on what divides, rather than unites, the electorate in Northern Ireland. Now that the contest is over, tribal politics offers no way forward. The parties should move to consolidate their gains and display a willingness to submerge differences in the interests of the entire community. Arlene Foster and Gerry Adams have, with differing emphasis, recognised the importance of having a functioning Assembly and a vigorous Executive. They now have an opportunity to do something about it and protect the broader economic interests of Northern Ireland.
When talks between the parties opened in Belfast yesterday there were indications Sinn Féin was prepared to review its position on the appointment of Foster as First Minister. Pending agreement on other issues, Adams said that Sinn Féin’s veto might be lifted. That would be consistent with his regularly expressed opinion on the centrality of an electoral mandate.
A functioning Assembly would give Sinn Féin a platform from which to campaign against Brexit in Northern Ireland, while persisting with its outdated abstentionist policy at Westminster. Declaring any deal between the Conservatives and the DUP would “not be good” for the people of Northern Ireland, Adams has already objected to the proposed confidence-and-supply arrangement. The post-Brexit effects of such a deal may not be positive, but they are likely to be less bad than was anticipated some weeks ago. The DUP and Sinn Féin are opposed to the introduction of a hard Border and, in broad terms, support the Belfast Agreement. Foster and Adams should concentrate on these objectives.