For a substantially more sanguine view on where the talks breakdown leaves us than my own, here’s Newton Emerson in the Irish News…
The meaning of ‘progress’ in this instance relates to DUP talks negotiator Simon Hamilton’s statement last July that Sinn Féin cannot “demand a ten-nil win.”
From what is known of last week’s deal, it looks more like a one-all draw. Most items on the talks agenda have simply melted away. RHI and Arlene Foster’s return as first minister – Sinn Féin’s original red lines – are no longer mentioned.
Legacy and a bill of rights are to be kicked into further committees, although both have already been subject to a decade of deliberations, which in legacy’s case keep on arriving at the same conclusions, while the bill of rights just turned into an academic farce.
Same-sex marriage has apparently been abandoned. On that point, Sinn Féin must be happy enough to let the DUP continue disgracing itself before British mainstream opinion.
The petition of concern will not be reformed. The DUP does not want to lose it and Sinn Féin may feel it is only one possibly imminent election away from being able to raise petitions on its own.
The big win for republicans is an Irish language act, yet activist demands have been substantially watered down. There will be no public sector recruitment quotas – the one unquestionably legitimate unionist concern.
Bilingual signage has been fudged, Irish in the courts will be permitted but not required and the language commissioner will be more of an ombudsman, with no powers of compulsion – let alone prosecution.
In practice, this is little more protection than Irish has already.
The DUP conceded the principle of Irish language legislation after last March’s assembly election and initially thought it could balance it with Ulster-Scots or ‘cultural’ provisions.
That survives in last week’s deal but only as a face-saving exercise.
Soundings last autumn quickly revealed to the DUP that its supporters were not buying Ulster-Scots as a consolation prize.
Now, I think we shouldn’t assume this was a draft deal (square brackets do matter), but Newton makes a more senior point in regard to the DUP’s unwillingness to deal:
…while there is no excuse for this ill-preparedness, there is a reason for it intrinsic to the deal-making process.
What trust has built up between the DUP and Sinn Féin over the past year has been due to the confidentiality of their negotiations.
Talks have been almost watertight – occasional statements like that from Hamilton, or the promotion of Ulster-Scots before last autumn, have revealed the outline of what was being discussed.
This secrecy produced an agreement but also stopped the DUP from walking its supporters through each compromise.
When talks resume, a more open process is required.
Quite. And in future we ought to take a broader view of how and why these crises keep happening at regular intervals. Some maturity from London and Dublin might go some way.