It will be up to unionists to ensure three strands are observed in talks

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, was tweeting yesterday that he was heading to Madrid for a meeting and then would be back in Belfast today for the Stormont talks.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 16th December 2019, 10:55 am
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 1:24 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

There might now be a desperation among a number of participants in the negotiations to get a return to devolution, but there are a number of core principles that unionists should not lose sight of.

The first is the three-stranded approach, arising out of the Belfast Agreement, in which Dublin’s role is limited to specific, relevant spheres. The Conservatives in their manifesto said they would strictly observe the strands. But they said the same in their 2017 manifesto, and it seems that the strands have not been strictly observed for years.

If this happens again, then unionists should boycott any meetings involving Irish officials that breach that principle.

If might well be in the current political climate that if unionists do such a thing, meetings will progress without them. After all, the UK government has been neutral in Stormont talks for years, despite occasional pro Union rhetoric from Tory leaders. The weak NIO always prevails, and Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs can be as partisan as it wants.

But there are questions of dignity, as well as principle, for unionists. If the three strand principle is not observed, then pull out of relevant meetings and let the media know.

In any event, as Steve Aiken, Ulster Unionist leader said yesterday, there is no point rushing back to Stormont if Sinn Fein is allowed to keep it as unstable as it was before.

The UUP deserves great credit for holding out against the legacy betrayal of the security forces who prevented civil war and consistently opposing the Irish language act blackmail.

When London and Dublin apply the sort of pressure to unionists that is never applied to nationalists, the very least that can happen is that the world is told about it, and for that to happen participants in the talks should resist the pressure and let the media know about it.