What will it take to break the stalemate in Stormont?
Political deadlock has left Northern Ireland without a devolved administration for almost a year
Fresh talks aimed at restoring Northern Ireland’s power sharing government ended without agreement last night, with negotiation set to resume this morning.
The region has been without a devolved government since the coalition executive collapsed in January, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein missing numerous deadlines to resolve the crisis.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire extended the latest deadline on Monday night, arguing that some progress had been made, and is due to brief the government later today.
If the political deadlock continues, Westminster will be forced to intervene and set a budget for Stormont’s public services, a major step towards imposing direct rule.
However, Sinn Fein has warned that such a move would lead to an immediate collapse of the talks.
“It has been a long year in Northern Ireland politics,” says the BBC’s Iain McDowell. “In a strange sort of way, a lot has changed while much has stayed the same.”
While some of the issues appear to have been resolved, “or at least lessened in significance for either party, the split remains as wide as ever on others,” he argues.
The main sticking point is Sinn Fein’s demand for legislation granting official status to the Irish language. The DUP has made some overtures, but has so far not done enough to satisfy Sinn Fein.
But there have been “clear hints” that the DUP is prepared to make a significant concession on this issue, Sam McBride writes for i news. It appears the party is now “battling over the timing, title and content of such legislation rather than the principle that there will be such an act,” he says.
Other remaining issues include the DUP’s opposition to lifting the region’s ban on same-sex marriage, as well as mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
If no deal is reached this week, Peter Hain, who served as secretary of state for Northern Ireland under Tony Blair, has suggested that Members of the Legislative Assembly have their expenses withdrawn in a bid to break the deadlock.
Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme yesterday, Hain said such a move helped overcome a similar impasse during his tenure.
“I think there should be consequences for the political class, if they continue not to do their jobs,” the Labour peer said. “Time has to be called on this whole soap opera at some point.”