A breathing space that gives unionists time to take stock

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Common sense prevailed yesterday, when the secretary of state extended the deadline in the Stormont talks.

James Brokenshire is now giving the parties until early May to reach agreement.

The initial deadlines were far too tight, given that the parties have to deal with a force as destabilising as Sinn Fein.

A narrative has begun to emerge in recent weeks that the two parties are blocking agreement, with all sorts of people among the great and the good urging compromise. The implication is that the DUP and Sinn Fein are equally to blame.

Yet it was the party that came in second, albeit by a very small margin, that was dictating terms.

If unionists of all shades, from the most liberal to the most hardline, can agree on anything at all they should agree on the need for unified resolve when Sinn Fein behaves in this way.

British governments of all shades should also unite to make clear to Sinn Fein that direct rule, with a friendly bent towards constructive pro-Union parties, will always be implemented when republicans behave in a destabilising way. After all, unionists have previously been threatened with direct rule with a green tinge if they did not move.

Even yesterday it was, as ever, a unionist leader – Arlene Foster – who was talking diplomatically about engaging with a different culture, that of the Irish language.

Sinn Fein, which talks the language of respect for all traditions, has been triumphalist since March 2, having in the weeks running up to that election (which is needlessly caused) been alternately self-pitying and provocative, such as when Michelle O’Neill paid tribute to IRA attackers.

Now there is time to think carefully about the way forward, and in particular about how to move forward on the Irish language and legacy matters. This is tricky, given that Sinn Fein is clearly determined to use the language in a way that changes the very essence of this Province and given that it seems confident legacy structures will help to justify IRA violence.