It is a sorry state of affairs in Northern Ireland when the first minister saying that there has been “solid progress” in the Stormont talks is cause for unease.
To feel such unease is not to lack faith in the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, but rather to acknowledge that her party is under intolerable pressure to capitulate to Sinn Fein.
Dublin has subtly been pushing for concessions towards the republican red lines, lecturing Northern Ireland for example on how it must have a standalone Irish language act.
Does London ever agitate on behalf of unionists to counter balance such pressure? If so, there is no public sign of it.
All the talk about cutting salaries merely adds to the pressure to cave in to Sinn Fein. Clearly MLA salaries will have to be cut if Stormont is fully suspended, but there are alternative options that must now be explored, such as the assembly continuing to operate to scrutinise direct rule ministers.
Perhaps Mrs Foster’s reference to “solid progress” is a sign that Sinn Fein is retreating from its red lines. Perhaps Michelle O’Neill’s vow that republicans will not be “shoe-horned” into a deal is a bluff to disguise a more pragmatic approach. But unless that is so SF must be isolated.
Ms O’Neill not only reiterated her red lines, including special publicly funded scrutiny (in the form of inquests) for Troubles deaths including those of the Loughgall IRA murder gang, she added post-Brexit special status for NI into the mix and then had the audacity to talk about tackling sectarianism – from a party built on sectarianism and still wedded to it.
Mrs Foster is of course right to observe that the Irish language is in itself no threat to the Union. But sectarian legislation, even if it looks mild but opens the way to widespread use of judicial review, will inflict long term damage to the Union.
Steven Agnew, link below, emphasises the key contrast between support for Irish and support for SF’s “divisive tactics”.
Direct rule has its own perils, but fear of those is insufficient reason to reward SF’s de-stabilising conduct and its grievance mongering lies over the Irish language and other issues.