Asked on Monday by a Scottish journalist what the British PM and the Irish Taoiseach coming to Stormont meant, I said it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve come over and nothing happened.
The NIO has used such events in the past to try to trigger a deal. Last time was over the Welfare standoff when it failed to achieve the desired effect. The toxification of the Irish language means probably too early to tell when we’ll get an actual outcome on this one.
Because a deal doesn’t emerge immediately doesn’t mean there won’t be one.
What’s also obvious from various statements is that the substantive talks have only included the two government parties and explicitly not what was the opposition before last March’s Assembly election. An opposition of just seven months, that toppled the fragile institutions.
[As Jim Royle might put it “roundtables, my arse!” – Ed]. Nope, definitely square ones Jim. If and when the deal is done, expect huge pressure on all three (SDLP, UUP, Alliance) to
mudguard flatshare again with the terrible two (DUP and SF).
According to Gerry Moriarty, the core point (an Irish Language Act) finally has some shape and weight:
From what we know about the proposed Irish language legislation it involves portions of good old Northern Ireland fudge.
That legislation, we are told, involves three pieces of legislation addressing Irish, Ulster Scots and broader cultural matters. There is said to be an inter-connectedness between all three acts where the DUP could say it means one thing and Sinn Féin could say it means another.
But if either or both the DUP and Sinn Féin insist that they have got their way on the language then there yet could be problems.
While Sinn Fein is telling the world it finally has an Irish language Act, it is noticeable that Arlene Foster’s repeating what she’s said from the outset, which is that there cannot be provision for Irish alone.
After taking (and forcing upon everyone else) an unauthorised gap year (fully paid, with pensions, etc), Sinn Fein is suddenly keen to get everyone back to work. It appears now to be the DUP’s turn to play the long ball into touch…
On speculation that a deal is close, @DUPleader tells @PA – “Whether it is this week, whether it is in a couple of weeks or whether it’s in a couple of months what I must ensure is that we have an accommodation that everybody feels content with.”
— David Young (@DavidYoungPA) February 13, 2018
The long game was always Peter Robinson’s habit to elongate negotiations in order to get out of a spot of bother. His last such performance was in order to keep the institutions from falling after the Provisional ‘butterfly’ momentarily reconvened to murder Kevin McGuigan.
As for Sinn Fein, with the southern Referendum set for the end of May, the chances of an early general election have receded. The disappointingly low poll ratings have convinced leadership that prolonged absence would be a block in the south.
The most useful outcome here is that Sinn Fein appears to have answered the question: are you going back to Stormont. Despite the worst fears of many of us, the answer appears to be, yes. The only other pressing questions are when, and to accomplish what exactly?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty