POLITICS OR WASTELAND? – By Brian Rowan

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Will the results of the latest elections here change anything when the talking begins again today?

Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Tanaiste Simon Coveney will meet before a lunchtime round table involving all the parties to these talks; new talks on old ground that will decide whether Stormont is to function again or be reduced to some political wasteland.

In the build up to today, Alliance has been the story of the election –  that surge that resulted in 53 seats across ten of the eleven councils.

“I’M NOT READING THIS AS PEOPLE LENDING US THEIR VOTE”

The above is a post-election thought from Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry who will be at today’s talks table. 

So, to what does he attribute the result, well above his own expectations of high 30s into the 40s in terms of seats? 

“It’s no one single trend,” Farry said.

“It’s probably multiple things building up in the system for quite some time,” he continued.

“It’s people re-assessing who they are post-Brexit. It’s social issues as well. 

“In the minds of the electorate, they want decisions made,” Farry told this website.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE POLITICS, YOU HAVE A WASTELAND

This thought is from another talks source.

It encapsulates both the choice and the challenge of this next and latest negotiation.

We know that the DUP and Sinn Fein – the two big parties each with 100-plus seats following those local elections – are still in very different places.

In recent days, we have heard Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds and Gavin Robinson repeat the party’s preferred option – to restore the political institutions immediately and to hold talks in parallel.

Sinn Fein has pitched its tent on different ground; agreement on rights issues before any new Executive.  .

The above is from the latest Gerry Adams L√©argas blog; suggesting no mood for yet another long drawn out and protracted negotiation. 

Elsewhere, these talks are not being talked up. 

“It’s still odds against,” being one assessment.

“CLOSED CONVERSATIONS”

The Green Party also had a good election; nothing like the success of Alliance, but a result that gave them eight councillors, including four in Belfast.

They do not have a seat at the talks table, but asked about the latest negotiations, party leader Clare Bailey commented: “A relief to have some movement, but given they are closed conversations the best we can expect is some political patchwork.

“A sustainable agreement, in the best interest of the people of Northern Ireland, can only be achieved if an independent chair is appointed to an open discussion.” 

There are no plans for an independent chair at this time, no plans to extend the main talks table beyond the two governments and the five main Stormont parties – the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP and Alliance – but what happens at the end of May?

This is when the governments will review progress. 

Can a deal be done in such an unstable moment in British politics – when Brexit has broken parliament, broken the two main parties at Westminster and shown the cracks within the union?

There is nothing certain about these talks, nothing certain about Stormont and nothing certain about anything within our politics at this time.   

There is another election scheduled in the course of these talks – an election which might give us some better understanding of the mood.

The talks that start today are important; because to do nothing is to give up, but this is also a moment of decision for the governments.

If the parties cannot get an agreement, then they have decisions to make. 

What is their Plan B – their way out of this wasteland?

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About Author

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster. Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist-of-the-Year awards. He was BBC security editor in Belfast and now contributes regularly to the Belfast Telegraph and UTV. Rowan has reported on the major pre-ceasefire and then peace process events. He is the author of four books.

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