Optimism at talks yet key questions remain unanswered

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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There was much optimism at the Stormont talks yesterday, it seems.

The secretary of state, Karen Bradley, praised the “positive engagement” of the parties.

The Irish deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney, said there was “good blunt discussion”.

The Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said the meeting was positive, while the SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon said people “want their politicians back at work”.

The Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said the working groups had made progress.

The Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann was impressed by the “mood music”, and the DUP leader Arlene Foster said of the current engagement: “I think this is for real.”

This is all sounds agreeable. But some factors are unmentioned by any of the above. Does the Sinn Fein veto still prevail? Is one party alone allowed to decide whether or not Stormont returns, with its blackmail of an Irish language act?

If so, then the optimism of the other parties suggests this is something they are prepared to concede. Ms Lou McDonald yesterday spoke of “broken promises”, which seems to be the old message that the party has not got its way.

There is also a question the UK and unionists need to address. Who has ultimate control of this process? We need to know if the UK ceded joint stewardship of the process to Dublin, as it has ceded joint stewardship of the border post Brexit.

The UK has sovereignty, yet seems to agree that nothing be announced by the UK alone, without Mr Coveney present. Unionists need to explain what their insistence on adherence to the three strands principle actually means in practice.

Because Mr Coveney has the confidence of a joint secretary of state, talking of his “recommendation to the Taoiseach will be that we should now intensify the discussions”. He feels able to state: “We are not likely to have a new Conservative Party leader and new prime minister probably until the end of July. We are looking to get this process done in June.”