The last time I wrote this column Northern Ireland (NI) was 300 days without a devolved government. It is now one year and NI continues to be in political limbo. While some politicians murmur about democratic deficit, we appear to be more in a political paralysis.
There had been talking between Sinn Fein and the DUP in January and “some” progress had been made but the nature of that progress is yet to be revealed. Yet on Monday of this week talks were due to start in earnest.
Ahead of the talks, the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, called on the British and Irish governments to “end their ‘hands off’ approach and forcefully drive negotiations to a conclusion”. The new Secretary of State Karen Bradley told MPs that her focus is the restoration of devolution because everyone she spoke to in Northern Ireland wanted to see just that. She told MPs even "the girl who did my make-up at the television said we all want this to work". But are people really that hopeful?
Lord Eames told Mark Carruthers on The View that “People cannot come to terms with the fact that a new generation, which is going to inherit the mistakes that we made in our generation, is a generation which is reading about these things in history books. They didn’t come through the Troubles or the trauma and that generation is inheriting what we are not doing”.
But Alex Kane of the Newsletter disagreed with this and thinks that the “Good Friday Agreement (GFA) generation” (as he calls them) is actually embracing the stalemate. It appears that ‘gen GFA’ are not voting in sufficient numbers for the alternative parties like the centrist Alliance Party or other small right (UUP) and left (SDLP) of centre small parties. No new political vehicles have been created and “66% of those who vote – and that includes increasing numbers who were around 18 in 1998 – are voting for the polar opposites of the DUP and Sinn Fein”. Alex Kane believes that it is reasonable to conclude that most of NI continue to vote for the same old us-and-them parties and positions.
Back to the talks, on Tuesday, the Guardian reported that there was cause for optimism and there could be a possible deal. After a day of discussions between the parties at Stormont, a UK government spokesman said, “an agreement in the coming days, while not certain, is achievable”. Both the DUP and Sinn Fein said while good progress had been made significant gaps remain between the two main parties.
However, the UUP, Alliance and SDLP appeared to be consigned to the fringes and when asked about the role of these parties in the talks, the independent unionist, Lady Sylvia Herman said she had heard it was a case of “a cup of tea, a bit of a chat and a ‘see you on Thursday’…”.
The week ended pretty much as it had begun with nothing really to report regarding progress in the talks, then the Thursday deadline was postponed. Not because the NI Parties had made no progress. This time, it was for something that people in NI are equally fed up hearing about, that would be, BREXIT!