The papers are at one in running the story that a Stormont deal may be imminent next week. But “with more work to be done” the emphasis ranges from glass half full to glass half empty. The Irish News headlines “ speculation quelled as differences remain ” while Suzanne Breen now bylined as the paper’s political editor, sticks her neck out with the quote from “sources” that, “we may not have an agreement within hours but we are potentially on the cusp of one within the week.”
The DUP and Sinn Fein appear to have reached this point entirely on their own, convened down the corridor somewhere in Stormont from a meeting between the secretary of state and the minor parties at which yet again nothing of import was discussed. They might have been spared the invitation. It appears no concerted plan from the two governments or even active chairmanship and no ideas from the minor parties made a contribution. Pressure might still be needed at the last minute but it’s hard to see how it might work. A deal might be crowned by a ritual visit by the two premiers but the thrill of anticipation is noticeably absent.
With expectations low, secrecy almost total and other concerns more prominent, the talks attracted little media attention even at home. They have been overshadowed not only by Brexit splits but by inquests on Gerry Adams’ career and Mary Lou McDonald’s succession as president of Sinn Fein. The BBC’s Andrew Marr last Sunday and the Today programme this morning managed to cover Gerry Adams’ career without mentioning the Stormont talks. Despite the frustrations over a year’s stand-off, low interest and the absence of outside involvement may even have been a good thing – if a deal turns out to be demonstrably substantial and durable and not just another patch-up.
But in the Irish Times Gerry Moriarty raises the interesting question. Would the DUP be able to handle the prospect of Sinn Fein’s return to Stormont as Mr Adams’ parting gift? Or is the delay in sealing the deal purely about the optics of today’s ardfheis?
Key issues still to be resolved are the Sinn Féin demand for a free-standing Irish language act and a DUP requirement that if it goes back into the Executive that the institutions will be sustainable and not susceptible to being easily crashed by Sinn Féin.
Sources surmised that while a deal was possible on Friday, some DUP politicians were reluctant to allow Mr Adams make his valedictory as party president, while telling Sinn Féin’s special ardfheis that not only had he helped broker an agreement but he had delivered on Sinn Féin’s Irish language demand.
There was also a DUP concern, according to sources, that if a deal was agreed on Friday either Sinn Féin triumphalism or some laudatory references RA at the ardfheis could “spook” some DUP MPs and Assembly members.
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