Image courtesy of Antrim Lens


“If we think we can maintain and develop political stability in the north while hardening the border across the island, that’s cloud cuckoo land.”

Those few words above from SDLP leader Colum Eastwood confirm that the Brexit negotiations and the future of the Stormont institutions are, to borrow a phrase, inextricably linked.

The two things are part of the one conversation or, at least, they should be.

On Monday, British Secretary of State James Brokenshire urged business leaders “to continue adding their voices to the growing demand for a return of the devolved power sharing government”.

His words ignore, or fail to grasp, what the arithmetic in the March and June elections tells us.

That surge in the nationalist vote was applauding the decision to bring those institutions down. The figures in March woke many unionist voters out of their sleep, resulting in that huge DUP vote in the snap Westminster Election giving the party 10 MPs and much more clout in London.

Politics is back in its Green and Orange trenches, and Brokenshire, casting himself in the role of some referee, has given no indication through months of endless talks of knowing what it is going to take to end this standoff.

The voices of the Irish Government have been raised. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – due in Belfast later this week – and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney have not shied away from expressing their opinions, on the border issue and on an Irish Language Act.

The more they say, the angrier unionists become.

We read that in recent statements from Nigel Dodds and Lord Empey, but Dublin’s role is not to sit in the corner or to sit on the fence.

So what if Coveney expresses support for an Irish Language Act. Surely by this stage everyone knows there will be no coalition agreement at Stormont – no restoration of the Executive – without such an Act, which in itself will not be enough to secure a deal.

“We have got to the point that the Irish Government have felt the need to reassert themselves,” Colum Eastwood told this website.

“I think that’s good – important that the Irish Government is vocal and strong,” he added.

Does anyone believe that Theresa May and Brokenshire are neutral within these talks – a Tory Government that needs DUP votes at Westminster?

So, putting the political institutions at Stormont back together again, will take much more than the cheering voices of Brokenshire and business leaders.

“The status quo hasn’t been good enough for a long time,” Eastwood commented.

“The institutions hadn’t been delivering for large swathes of the community. This [the political crisis] didn’t just come upon us. It had been building for a while,” he said.



So, what are the prospects for an autumn deal?

“I’m far past the point of making predictions,” Eastwood responds.

“I think it’s possible, but have yet to see a willingness – the spirit and attitude of power-sharing – to be convinced,” he said.

A meeting between Sinn Fein and Brokenshire on Monday changed nothing.

Nor will their next meeting or the one after that.

They are in very different places.

The talking has been in circles, the standoff at Stormont further complicated by the Brexit border question and the ever-louder conversation on union versus unity.

If there is a way through, it is not yet in sight.

This negotiation has not moved and the issues have not changed.

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