Bradley’s most crucial role now is preparing for direct rule

Morning View
Morning View

The new secretary of state for Northern Ireland has visited the Province for the first time, and shown determination to get progress at Stormont.

Karen Bradley made comments that anyone in her position probably would: that the return of devolution is an “absolute priority” and that the Irish government would play an “important role” in the talks.

She also admitted that she had things to learn about Northern Ireland. It is no insult to her to agree that anyone suddenly arriving into a political situation as complex as Ulster faces a steep learning curve.

However, one fundamental fact of the current impasse is not at all hard to grasp: Sinn Fein, which only ever had a limited interest in making Stormont work, now sees a greater advantage in bringing things to a halt.

It is fully aware that the DUP and London have been keen to see devolution restored.

It knows that it cannot be excluded from power-sharing.

It can see that Dublin is making clear it will reject British-only direct rule.

In those circumstances, it would be disastrous to reward Sinn Fein with concessions.

It would be one of the biggest victories in the history of republicanism.

Not only would the concessions of themselves do lasting damage, but it would simply confirm Sinn Fein in its belief that it can periodically bring politics to a halt and gain fresh concessions each time it does.

So while Mrs Bradley has to pay lip service to talks, Sinn Fein has moved events beyond that.

The real work of the secretary of state is now to prepare for direct rule.

It is to be hoped that there are Conservative advisors who are paving the way for an uncompromising response to the inevitable and fierce challenge that there will be from Dublin when that British-only direct rule comes in.