Sinn Fein says agreement must be reached by Friday or its another (to nowhere). In fact, the only thing that will be forced by then is that Westminster will have to legislate for a new rate to be set.
So the talks will be paused today, not ended. It’s a fairly run of the mill attempt by the SF leader to frame the narrative of these periodic breakdowns (of which this is just the most recent and severe). That it was nonsense seems not to dampen the effect.
The British government seems intent on keeping the possibility of an election (for SF) and/or the option of direct rule (for the DUP) on the table for a reasonable period of time. Both options would render the last election results null and void.
But their preferred option is to get the two back to work: with or without the smaller parties. As well as giving away control of setting the local rate, there are other things that will be put in jeopardy.
Here’s Eileen Evason, who helped the DUP/Sinn Fein led Executive on their ameliorated welfare reform package:
“We need to start thinking now about which parts of the package should be retained and whether we can help those affected by cuts made since our report: most obviously the implementation of the so-called 2 child policy, cuts to Employment & Support Allowance and the severe limitation in support for widowed parents which is now being put in place.
“I have no doubt that those working with the most vulnerable in our society are anxious to move forward but here, as is the case on so many issues, it is difficult to see how progress can be made without resolution of the current political impasse.”
The voluntary and community sector, already under threat of cuts from the Community Relations Council, are also effectively cut off from by the Office of the Executive.
Sinn Fein appear to be gambling all of its limited gains (jointly won through the DUP) for a highly limited Irish Language Act (both parties tried to get a Bill of Rights through before and failed), and with bids on legacy also being noticeably limited.
On the future focused side of the ledger, marriage equality is within grasp of the new Assembly (although new elections might actually endanger that possibility by restoring the DUP’s capacity to block such measures in the Assembly).
Long overdue reform of the Petition of Concern is now possible for the new Assembly: if anyone is policy smart enough to come up with an alternative protection? And there are a raft of things that can be done with the balance of power that was not possible before and may not be possible after a re-run.
A long stasis may now suit a troubled DUP, but voiding this election, as SF wants, only risks re-ensnaring a temporarily freed Assembly in the grip of this ongoing domestic within what is likely to remain Northern Ireland’s dysfunctional politbureau for the sake of a long shot to finally take the top seat off the DUP.