Majority opposes Brexit, overall unionist majority at Stormont gone. NI politics in completely new construct – By Brian Rowan 

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The weeks of the summer have changed nothing. There is no new plan. No new thinking.

Read the latest statements from British Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney after their meeting on Tuesday.

Brokenshire’s priority “to see the restoration of the devolved institutions” – his comment that, “Urgent progress is required” and that: “Ultimately, it is for Northern Ireland’s political parties to find a way to make this work.”

Coveney said: “The parties who have the enabling electoral mandates need to reach the necessary agreement to form a new Executive. Both Governments will leave no stone unturned in the weeks ahead in supporting the parties to achieve that essential objective.”

What if they can’t? What then?

Both Brokenshire and Coveney will know that their words – for all their urging – will not fix what is broken.

This negotiation is not just about the Northern Ireland parties. It is about the governments also. If an agreement is not reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein, then what is the Brokenshire-Coveney plan?

A British-only approach will not work. The direct rule of the past will not work.

A majority in Northern Ireland opposes Brexit. The overall unionist majority at Stormont has gone. The politics of this place is in an entirely new frame.

So, the old way is no way.

The only viable alternative to a DUP-Sinn Fein deal is a British-Irish agreement/understanding however that is described.

In their latest statements, we see no movement from Stormont’s largest parties.

Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O’Neill urging a formal resumption of talks on August 28th aimed at resolving outstanding issues; the DUP’s Simon Hamilton dismissing this as a stunt and arguing for the Executive to be formed with negotiations in parallel.

These are the familiar fixed positions – a script that has not altered since the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister in January.

So, what form will the next phase of talks take?

Surely not a further act in the pantomime that has played out at Stormont Castle over a period of months; those several phases of talking and not talking each of which has ended in failure and blame; a political play characterised by standoff, smugness and soundbites.

If the outstanding issues cannot be resolved, if an Executive cannot be formed, then the governments need to think about what is possible – how to fill the political space and how to put Stormont out of its misery.

On one of the outstanding issues, Brokenshire has been signalling a public consultation on a legacy process. We could all write the outcome of that now.



Would time not be better spent on exploring the Day of Acknowledgement recently suggested by former Methodist President Harold Good and working on the acknowledgement statements suggested in the Haass/O’Sullivan process?

Remember what they said in relation to acknowledging past acts: “We encourage individuals, organisations and National Governments to work together on specific statements of acknowledgement, including by discussing language, timing and other matters in private before public statements are made, to ensure that such acknowledgements are carried out in ways that contribute positively to healing and reconciliation.”

Getting this right would be a much better start to a legacy process – better than a divisive and destructive public consultation.

Politics needs something more than a continuation of what has happened and not happened at the Castle in recent months; needs the thinking of people such as Harold Good, those who have the knack of finding words that help create new ways.

An experienced colleague with whom I chatted on Tuesday was thinking out loudly about January 2018 and would the story be a year without the political institutions.

This is the sleepwalk – politics in a daze; directionless – seemingly going nowhere.

More talks, the same people talking – what will that achieve?

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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. Brexit has birthed a terrible beauty!
    And as the Tory Brexit muddle continues it reveals more puzzles but becomes weekly more beautiful.
    When ECJ gets the chop the EU will be demanding EU rights for northern Irish EU citizens – who may well have their own EU MP to represent them in Brussels. But already Tories have dismissed EU citizen rights for EU citizens in GB!
    The GFA will, under Brexit, be legally tested to breaking point. It will snap!
    And the new beauty will be given more form, shape and will emerge protected by an unlikely combination of groups. (Big business in GB will have enough probs without having to face more just for the sake of the Union of GB/NI) CBI/IRA ffs!
    The DUP are irrelevant to all this as any threat from them to Tory Govn will see their bluff called – after all if Tories fall DUP will likely be dealing with a new and radical, even revolutionary Labour Govn.
    The craic will be great!

  2. Sinn Fein do not want devolved Government despite what they might say. “That part of our campaign is over” their words not mine. Time for Brokenshire to ‘grow a set’ and bring in direct rule immediately

  3. Irish citizens in the north will have to have full eu rights the British government have to acknowledge that The north is not as “British as Finchley” and the tories know this is the case the GFA will be broken if the uk government removes ECJ rulings and acess to it for irish/eu citizens a border poll will have to be called if not then joint authority is the only option eu politicians elected in north will have to be Irish MEPs representing Ireland the days of British Westminster direct rule is long gone everything has changed Ultimately it has been the unionists and there crazy support for Brexit that have broke the union

  4. I see no need for any despair. This period is one of huge opportunity. We are at the nub of our problem for the first time in the existence of both statelets on the Island. Things have changed utterly. Brexit redefines the framework. Even Simon Hamilton gets it, despite his glib protestations to the contrary. Coveney seems to sense it too and poor Brokenshire looks like a bewildered passenger.
    Unionism is as strong as it has been, or is going to be, nationalism is resurgent and confident. Only 52,000 separate the respective impressive mandates.
    Both blocs, however, are locked in a formulaic variation of the Grand Dance de Deux. The audience must continue to nudge and nudge but the directors of the Ballet, principally Coveney and also Brokenshire need to reshape the stage or radically recast the ballet in light of changed realities.
    Let’s hope the stalemate and changed realities of demographics can produce real dialogue whenever it may come or in whatever shape it may come. Things have changed utterly. Genuine new thinking is needed if we are to arrive at workable interim arrangements, the GFA sets the framework and the direction of travel is obvious. Half deals and cobbled together deals just won’t cut it any more. Let’s travel in hope.

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