Rising expectations? The minority parties should put them to the test tomorrow

“I’m frustrated too, “ Karen Bradley told MPs. “The negotiations are at a very  sensitive stage.. very detailed and intense.. I’ve committed to not giving a running commentary .. I’m  not going to say anything that would jeopardise the talks.. They will last weeks, not months..

She was echoing the Taoiseach in the Dail yesterday, telling TDs :

… he did not want to say anything that might cause offence to anyone at such a crucial juncture in the process in Belfast.

After yesterday’s first round table exchange between the five Stormont parties and Irish and British governments, the talks returned to a bilateral format.

“There are talks under way in Stormont at present, as we speak Minister (Simon) Coveney is in Belfast representing the Government and those talks are at a very sensitive stage so I think today is not the day to be asserting our unionism or nationalism. I don’t think there would be any good purpose being served in giving anyone any cause to take offence.

At her first outing of NI questions, Ms Bradley presented herself more warmly than either of her two predecessors but without any change of tactics. She was absolutely right to refuse to make a Statement rather than leave it to questions. Even allowing for MPs’ resourcefulness in banging on about the same points again and again, they could never have filled the whole allocated hour of parliamentary time.  As it was they got no further on the Irish dimensions of Brexit either. Mark Devenport of the BBC tried valiantly to make a story out of her Labour shadow’s obviously unsuccessful attempt  to commit her to Westminster legislation on same sex marriage.

In comments on Colum Eastwood’s post below, it turns out that I may have been unfair  in expecting the SDLP and the other minority parties to make use of the leverage of their participation in round table sessions to demand greater transparency and put forward their own ideas to the talks  and the public.

Ms Bradley didn’t deny Sylvia Hermon’s mischievous suggestion that they had only come in for “ a cup of tea and a chat.” in the first round table session.  If they have any spine at all they shouldn’t put up with that for long. The next round table is scheduled for tomorrow . They should seize the chance to get a real grip on what’s going on. Or, if discretion is merited, they should say so.

The little I’ve heard hasn’t dissuaded me from believing that nothing will happen without considerable pressure including if necessary the promise of proactive measures and the formal suspension of the Assembly  under direct rule.

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