On Tuesday there was an emptiness to Parliament Buildings; almost a sense of abandonment – and still no sign of the political thinking and will that will be needed to lift this place out of its mood and mire.

In a political tug-of-war, it seems the knot is tightening.

Just listen to some of the words of recent days – humiliation versus insult; all of this straining and strengthening that knot that won’t loosen.

“The same old shite,” was how one negotiator dismissed a conversation on Monday.

“In any negotiation the position has to change at some point,” he continued, but it hasn’t – not yet – and what if those positions don’t change?

It is close to nine months since the late Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister.

Those who thought this was some phoney war or crisis have had plenty of time since to reassess and rethink – to rework their commentary.

The politics of Stormont is frozen in the fallout from January and the elections since.

Sinn Fein’s vote in March scared unionists, prompted the reaction that came in June when the DUP recovered and, now, the two parties are stuck – perhaps even stranded – on the spot of that electoral success.

They have the numbers and are afraid of losing them; afraid of being out-negotiated or outmanoeuvred.

It means the political institutions at Stormont are tied up in the knot of that tug-of-war and numbers game that is Union versus Unity; Orange versus Green.

It is hard to imagine political compromises being freed from such a tight grip or hold.

Just read Declan Kearney’s recent contribution to this website. His listing of rights as the key to unlocking this stalemate, and put his words alongside those we are hearing from the DUP, particularly in opposition to a stand-alone Irish Language Act.

This negotiation has not moved – and is not moving.

For all the talk of intensive talks, there is now the suggestion of the need for more time- bound structured talks.

It is all talk.

The words often acting as heavy weights holding down and holding back progress; holding the parties on those spots on which they are stuck.

The DUP “common sense” proposal of restoring the Executive followed by more talks has been completely rejected; most recently in the Kearney blog on this website.

There is no trust for such a sequence to be considered or allowed.

In the standoff, the shout from the public is to end salaries. Would such a move help the negotiation, bring closer a deal? The answer is NO.

Politics has become lost in a place of no new ideas.

Who are unionists trying to convince that in the absence of agreement, there will be no Irish Government input into some Plan B?

Are they talking to themselves? Have they missed completely the significance of the voting trends in recent months – how this place has changed and is changing?

Dublin knows its role and responsibilities.

It also knows there is no substitute for Plan A and working politics at Stormont.

This many months after the McGuinness resignation are we any closer to that point?

The answer is NO. The big votes for Sinn Fein and the DUP have made a deal more difficult and the political knot more fixed.

These endless talks are way beyond their sell-by date. The two governments need to call it.

9 thoughts on “TALKING BEYOND THE SELL-BY DATE –  By Brian Rowan

  1. I remember during the formative stages of the All Party Talks in the mid-90’s, Mandela invited the Talks participants to a secluded retreat in South Africa for a few days. I didn’t get there, but recognised the role of the smaller parties in helping to grease the wheels of NI politics when they jam up. That visit to South Africa played its part in the road to a GFA.

    That is what needs to happen now. The parties should be taken to an island (not in the Caribbean!) and given a few days to settle down and talk it out. A group of specialist mediators such as Mediation NI should go with them to help facilitate, (and a skilled barman too might help.)

    If they are throwing coconuts at each other at the end of that time then the Secretary of State will have no choice but to bite the bullet and call Direct Rule. And I would invite all the parties at Stormont, a select team from each who can negotiate the way forward.

    Allowing this “tug-of-war” to continue is just a total waste of time and it even lowers political self-esteem and confidence to a lower level. Our services are falling apart. Inward investment is creaking. Time to sort it out once and for all. And the question must be asked of both governments, why are they not assisting in the equality debate? Surely they could help with this to reassure both camps.

    Eg the DUP need to accept an Irish Language Act just as a Welsh language act was adopted in Wales (a visit to Wales just might help to soften this fear) – and Sinn Féin need to iron out the bumps on their equality demands as the price of their idealism may be a question of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Both sides need to pull back from the brink of a Stormont collapse.

    And an island far away, in the sun, with absolutely no press or mobile phones etc with lots of coconut trees just might just be the ticket!

  2. Our services are falling apart. Inward investment is creaking.

    I think that was always happening when Stormont was up and running. A return to Stormont isn’t going to magically make everything wonderful. Closing it should make us about £140 million a year better off if I remember correctly, and make sure they pay off the 384 Staff that the OFMDFM have.

  3. We must never lose sight of the facts that the DUP, the UUP, the Orange Order and Loyalist ( especially after the death of David Irvine) have never really embraced the Good Friday Agreement and all of its parts but have rather attempted to cherry pick it to suit themselves ,
    This has become more evident since the arrival off Dodds ,Foster, Donaldson etc and their efforts to raise nationalist frustration in the hope that they will return to violence which in turn will justify their own claims to be the victims,but of course there is also the dark forces of the UDA/UVF at hand to be called on once again ala 1969 !!!
    On the other hand the nationalist community have gone the extra mile/ miles to understand their fears with the acceptance of the concept of consent and the dropping off the claims of jurisdiction by the republic of Ireland by the serious out reach by all nationalist who have held out the hand of friendship and partnership all which have been rejected
    It takes two to make peace work, it takes respect to make peace work , it takes a feeling of justice and equality to make peace work , and most off all it takes trust to make peace work, all of which is missing from the unionist / loyalist community
    The Good Friday Agreement was to be a new beginning,a new start for all our people especially our children, but today we witness the British Conservative and unionist party and the DUP tear it up into little pieces

    • Dodds, Donaldson and Foster all suffered attacks on themselves or family by the IRA. Maybe if SF didn’t exist it would be a lot easier for unionists in general to embrace reconciliation, but with SF still lauding their “freedom fighters” and telling their support they will put manners on themmuns and break them with the trojan horse of equality, you can not expect a positive reaction from unionists.
      You need brains to play the political game and to be fair neither party have that basic requirement.

      • we all suffered but if you still wish to live in the past comparing hurts instead of trying to build a place of equals then your welcome to stay there but many off us wish to move on and build a better place for our children and grandchildren where the hurts off the past ( 1922 = 1994 ) are never repeated but you must also realise that the demography of the north are now changing and nationalist will soon be the natural majority something the unionist community need to take heed of

        • Demographics.
          The demographics argument is based on the idea that as the Catholic Population increases then support for UI will increase proportionately.
          Every year that passes more and more young Catholics will enter the electorate and it’s only a matter of time until the majority is Nationalist. The facts are different.
          In the last 19 years between the 1998 Election and the 2017 Election the electorate increased by 76,163.
          The Nationalist vote (counting PBP) increased by 17,033.
          What happened? Only 22.3% of the new young voters voted for nationalist parties. There has been no long steady increase in support for UI either.
          In the absence of any logical explanation. The demographics argument is dead.
          Nationalist Vote in decline.
          Over the last 20 years the Unionist vote as a percentage of the Electorate declined by 1.7873867%
          Nationalist declined by -0.000431066%

  4. Would it make any difference if the UK Labour party were more vocal about the current impasse at Stormont? I know they were courting Sinn Féin for a while and it is an interesting counterpoint to the DUP relationship with the Tories.

    Maybe Corbyn needs to step up to the plate and spell out what Labour policy really is regarding Northern Ireland/Ireland re the current mess etc. Maybe they too are just as divided. Seems to be catching. Will we get a clue from the forthcoming Labour party conference I wonder? Or just more Tory bashing.

    As it stands they are likely to be the next government and should be espousing a coherent policy now. As it stands we are heading for a perfect storm – Brexit, inaction at Stormont, an increasingly divided community, the GFA an endangered species, the economy lagging, currency fluctuating, investment slow, and our worst fears … paramilitaries who can whip up a storm or a civil war in a blink of an eye.

    Where are the real creative thinkers in all of this? The parties seem to be burned out.

  5. On Monday evening i attended the Northern Health Trust’s consultation on the financial proposals for their (£!3M) part of the £70M cut to healthcare in Northern Ireland. I was so angry with the SF and DUP representatives who were at the head of the queue when it came to question time. Apart from the usual party political blurb, they had nothing to offer.

    By the time it came to my turn as a non party-political, ordinary member of the public to ask a question, next to last, I was so infuriated that instead of asking my two questions, I launched into an attack on those politicians present who are so busy arguing over what divides us that they are standing by/sitting on their backsides fiddledee-deeing while healthcare goes ever deeper into a serious crisis.

    If we get a freezing cold winter with falls and fractures, a serious flu epidemic or an outbreak of norovirus in hospitals and care homes, there WILL BE DEATHS and who will be responsible?

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