Ireland’s foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney has said that Stormont could be functioning within weeks.
To some people – such as the dignitaries who have told ‘both sides’ to compromise – this might be good news.
The problem is that it is Sinn Fein that has been issuing various red lines. Unionists have issued none.
If there is movement towards those red lines, for the short term goal of resuming Stormont, it will kick the problem down the road. Sinn Fein would know it could hold Northern Ireland to ransom again in few years – and would do. No-one who cares about the Union could countenance that scenario.
Mr Coveney says there are a “relatively small” number of issues on which there is not yet agreement. If this means a republican retreat from red lines that is excellent news. Specifically, as many senior voices in the DUP have long said, a standalone Irish language act would be a disaster for NI.
The party won scores of thousands of unionist voters who are not natural DUP supporters but are furious at Sinn Fein conduct. In those circumstances it would be unacceptable for there to be a sudden announcement of an Irish language act, on which feelings have been hardening – and for good reason.
It would be a costly and lasting act of cultural aggression. Sinn Fein had plenty of time to reassure people’s feelings as to their intentions and it failed, believing if it held out long enough its sectarian tactics would be rewarded.
The party’s grievance mongering continued yesterday, when the ex IRA man Gerry Kelly joined a protest in which SF politicians posed with their mouths taped shut alongside children from Irish speaking schools, as if they face discrimination. In fact such schools get funding that allows them to stay open with tiny numbers of pupils while larger schools close.
Mr Coveney recently lectured NI on how only a standalone act was acceptable. Dublin’s recent hectoring on issues including Brexit has bolstered Sinn Fein. If it is now taking a more pragmatic approach and accepts that nationalism cannot issue red lines, that is welcome – albeit belated.
If not, Mr Coveney’s optimism is worrying.