The Irish Times view on Belfast power-sharing talks

Building a non-sectarian society in the North requires a focus on the big picture

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley during a press conference at Stormont in Belfast in April. Photograph:  Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley during a press conference at Stormont in Belfast in April. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Talks at Stormont aimed at reviving the powersharing institutions have been going on now for nine weeks with little sign of real progress. The best that can be said is that the parties are still engaged in the process and that may count for something in the long term. Northern Secretary Karen Bradley travelled to Belfast last week to meet the parties and review progress but there is no great expectation of an imminent breakthrough, particularly as the marching season is about to begin.

All hope has not yet been lost that a deal to facilitate the restoration of devolution can still be reached before Theresa May stands down as British prime minister, but the chances of an early breakthrough look slim. Movement is not expected in the coming week because of the Twelfth of July celebrations, which leaves just one week before May’s departure from office. If there is no deal by that stage the talks are likely to be adjourned until September, when a new British prime minister will be in place.

On the positive side, those involved in the talks accept that they have been conducted in a constructive manner. There has been active involvement by Irish and British officials but neither Sinn Féin nor the DUP has shifted its position sufficiently to allow a breakthrough.

The two governments have not given up on the process and still believe a deal is possible. The much-criticised Bradley told the House of Commons last week that she was doing everything in her power to ensure the parties continue to engage and would do whatever she could to make them succeed. Her commitment is not questioned by the Government in Dublin, and Tánaiste Simon Coveney is similarly committed to getting an agreement.

The reality, however, is that any progress is likely to be limited to narrow conditionality around the restoration of Stormont when, as Ulster University chancellor and actor Jimmy Nesbitt argued so cogently in The Irish Times on Saturday, a much greater transformation is necessary to build a non-sectarian society in Northern Ireland.

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