Very gradually, the language surrounding the political talks is changing from negative to cautiously constructive, as Noel McAdam’s report shows ..
In the strongest indication the party could return to the Executive, Mrs Foster has said the DUP will respond “positively” to positive developments during the inter-party talks on IRA activity and welfare reform. There may be sticking points over dealing with the past but these are not political deal breakers.
Newton Emerson in the Irish News and at length in the Sunday Times (£) argues that Sinn Fein are positioning to swallow the welfare cuts to allow a restoration of what passes for normality in the Executive. Direct rule would be worse than accepting welfare cuts which Stormont could blunt, compared to the full monty of Conservative cuts which local politicians would be powerless to affect if Stormont was suspended.
SInn Fein has three reasons to sound the retreat. First, the Irish general election is still more likely to take place early next year and Stormont really does have to wrap up its talks around the same time, to restore some sense of institutional credibility before its own elections next May.
Second, anti-austerity politics is becoming redundant as the southern economy recovers, so Sinn Fein must put down the metaphorical placard and start repositioning itself among the grown-up centre-left. Third, the DUP has made such a spectacle of itself with its resignations over the past four weeks that anything Sinn Fein does will look statesmanlike by comparison — even running backwards from a crisis that everyone knows republicans caused.
Unionists can only admire the special properties of republicanism, somehow combining Teflon and elastic, that permit it to get so cleanly away. But chutzpah at the top and loyalty at the bottom are only part of the explanation. Positive presentation is a significant factor.
Sinn Fein has spent two years cynically wrecking devolution, yet its every statement has been a homily to how much it wants power-sharing to work. The DUP has been desperately trying to make devolution work, yet its every statement has been a lament at how it hates sharing power with Sinn Fein.
Emerson’s analysis may be overly paradoxical or not, but his essential point is gaining ground. Hopes are rising for a deal by the end of the month unless Enda causes a snap election to wreck the timetable.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London