The Easter talks deadline must not become a rigid one

Morning View
Morning View

The political situation in Northern Ireland is extraordinarily serious.

The Province continues to wait in apprehension to find out if Sinn Fein is willing to play a constructive role in its running.

Yesterday, after the Secretary of State James Brokenshire rightly emphasised the need for political stability, and after he reasonably visited patients at a hospital in Antrim to see the issues up close, Sinn Fein launched a fierce attack on him.

Conor Murphy said that Mr Brokenshire had a “brass neck” for talking that way when “relentless Tory cuts” have taken hundreds of millions of pounds out of public services.

But governments of all shades – Labour, then the coalition and now a standalone Conservative administration – have continued to pump vast and generous amounts of money into a society that is still recovering from the trauma of a decades-long bombing campaign that wreaked economic devastation and caused lasting divisions.

Now Sinn Fein is riding high after the recent election result and thinking that it can call all the shots, but also issuing condemnation all round it as the party decides whether or not to help to form a new devolved executive.

Mr Brokenshire said again yesterday that direct rule remains on the table. If it returns there must be no hint of an increased say for Dublin, regardless of what the latter thinks.

The informal deadline Mr Brokenshire seems to have set of next weekend, after which he said talks should not drift on, must not become rigid. There are huge issues to be resolved.

Some details being mooted for Irish language legislation, with regard to public sector employees and to school provision, must not only be resisted, they must never be agreed.

Likewise, there are still alarming things emerging, or being proposed, with regard to legacy (which is already imbalanced). With Sinn Fein having set the bar so high on a range of issues, swift agreement ought to be highly improbable.