Time to strike a deal in Northern Ireland talks

What divides the DUP and Sinn Féin appears more symbolic than real

Negotiations to salvage powersharing in Northern Ireland continue as parties mount a last-ditch effort to strike a deal.

 

It’s time for the two big parties in Northern Ireland to show they are serious about politics by striking a deal that will enable the power-sharing institutions to be restored. Failure to do so will be a sad reflection on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin and will call into question their capacity to serve their communities in any meaningful way.

Northern Secretary James Brokenshire has given them yet another ‘last chance’ to reach a compromise by early next week. But he will be hard put to find an excuse to extend the latest deadline if the two parties fluff this opportunity.

On the positive side, when the two sides again failed to meet the deadline last Thursday both Brokenshire and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said they were encouraged that both the DUP and Sinn Féin were engaging intensively and that the prize of a deal remained achievable. The Northern Secretary is reflecting on his options this weekend and will make a statement in the House of Commons on Monday about what steps he intends to take next.

Both governments are hoping that by Monday Sinn Féin and the DUP will be prepared to signal that an agreement is finally possible. If that doesn’t happen Brokenshire will be faced with a decision about whether to find some mechanism to extend the period for negotiations over the summer and into the autumn, or to throw in the towel and opt either for new Assembly elections or formally hand over the running of Northern Ireland to direct rule by British ministers.

It would be truly ironic if the DUP, having so skilfully negotiated a £1 billion package for their support for Theresa May’s Conservative government, were to hand over the distribution of the largesse to ministers based in London. The DUP and Sinn Féin have shown themselves to be tough and skilful negotiators over the years but at this stage it appears they have become obsessed with negotiations as an end in themselves.

What divides the two parties appears more symbolic than real. Sinn Féin is insisting on a free-standing Irish Language Act while the DUP wants to tag on other elements, including the status of Ulster Scots.

The approach of the two parties to this issue is clearly about more than language. It is about each side trying to put one over on the other. It is not too much to hope even at this late stage that the vastly experienced negotiators from the DUP and Sinn Féin can find some form of compromise to break the political deadlock given how disproportionate the consequences of failure to agree are likely to be.

The two sides have been given a last chance to reach an agreement based on mutual respect rather than oneupmanship. In their own best interests and that of the communities they represent, they should take it.

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.