ULSTER Unionists are supposed to feel right at home in a Big House, but I’m with Sir Reg (and Nigel Dodds) on the Government’s apparent ‘need’ to get away from Northern Ireland for negotiations in October. After all, the Agreement was worked out in Stormont and Castle Buildings, but the Leeds Castle talks were, largely, a failure in spite of the beautiful backdrop. The Government does this for different reasons, none of them particularly good.Sometimes a venue will be chosen for its symbolism, such as Lancaster House, but the main thinking is that by taking the parties out of Northern Ireland, they will be subject to less pressure from their home crowds. Leeds Castle also had the perceived advantage of a moat being able to keep the media at bay, and the mobile phone coverage was awful – yet this is not necessarily conducive to talks.
Hyping talks at a ‘Big House’ is also a way of raising public expectations, where there is no reason to, and I think this is why unionists are agin the idea; they don’t feel the hothouse pressure is useful nor do they feel there is there may necessarily be much progress.
Weston Park, Lancaster House and Leeds Castle were all aimed at moving political progress forward substantially, yet each delivered something much less. It would seem silly to try the same thing again and expect a different result.