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The DUP and Sinn Féin are taking a hiatus for the summer - so when will a deal be done?

Yet again, both parties failed to reach agreement this week that would restore power-sharing in the North.

Arlene Foster of the DUP (above); Michelle O'Neill, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin (below)
Arlene Foster of the DUP (above); Michelle O'Neill, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin (below)
Image: Press Association

WITH NO DEAL done between Sinn Féin and the DUP, there’s to be a hiatus over the summer, with no agreement expected before the Autumn.

Yet again, both parties failed to reach a consensus that would restore power-sharing in the North this week.

They have been locked in talks for months. Deadlines have been repeatedly missed and new ultimatums given. It is now well understood that some time-out to let the waters settle to allow a more work-friendly atmosphere to develop.

Although informal talks will continue, some Northern Ireland politicians believe it’s not enough. They want to see the two parties powering through, giving up their summer holidays to get a deal across the line. But a “sos” (small break, as Gaeilge), as one Sinn Féin politician put it, is desired.

Because as it stands, things are looking particularly bleak.

Gerry Adams, Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster have all said they are want an agreement and are “up for devolution”. That is, at least, something.

But the talks have been frustrating, both for the public watching and for the people in the room. There have been reports that meetings have been missed or cancelled and that back-channel, informal chats that usually take place during such negotiations are being closed off.

It’s been a bit of learning curve for the new Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who was this week accused of harming the prospects of a deal at Stormont after backing Sinn Féin’s demand for an Irish Language Act.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Coveney’s intervention had been “unhelpful”.

Difficult negotiations

It wouldn’t be a leap to say the relationship between the two parties is strained.

It’s been coming for some time: the change of leadership from Peter Robinson to Arlene Foster, the cash-for-ash scandal, the loss of Martin McGuinness and the controversy over provisions for the Irish language all created pockmarks. Then the UK election threw up the surprising result that Theresa May would need Foster to stay in power.

Crevices began to appear. It was all rather unexpected and has pushed Northern Irish politics to its limits.

O’Neill says May has “set back decades of work that has been done here [the North] throughout the years” by inviting the DUP to prop up the British government.

And by all accounts, relations between Sinn Féin and the DUP appear to have been pushed back a few years also.

General Election 2017 aftermath UK PM Theresa May stands with DUP leader Arlene Foster (left), as DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson (second right) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, and Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

With the DUP particularly emboldened by the deal with the Tories, there is speculation that the party’s MPs are holding up the show in Stormont. One only had to listen to DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson’s contribution on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this week – where he said the “Irish Government is sticking its nose in business it has no responsibility for” – to see there might be some truth to that.

The shopping lists

So, what do Sinn Féin and the DUP want?

One of the main sticking points, the proposed Irish Language Act, is something Sinn Féin are adamant on pushing through. Another is marriage equality.

Sinn Féin has also, repeatedly, called on Foster to step down over the cash-for-ash scandal but the party appears to be willing to compromise on that, for now.

The DUP most certainly does not want the Irish Language Act to go through. The unionist party is also unwilling to back down on its opposition to same-sex marriage.

So, with polar opposite views on two deal breakers, is an agreement even possible?

Apparently so, according to sources close to the negotiation.

But it will be tough, and someone is going to have to budge, they say.

“The types of issues that are being held at the moment are so basic and so modest it just shouldn’t be tolerated,” Adams told reporters this week.

Adams was adamant an Irish Language Act would be introduced in the North.

“There is going to be an Act Na Gaeilge in the North. It is a matter of when it is going to happen… That is why there is this hiatus, because unionism has to come to terms with the inevitability of it,” said Adams.

However, while there is some breathing time over the summer, he said he didn’t want a deal to be left to the last minute.

General Election 2017 aftermath Michelle O'Neill and Gerry Adams. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

‘Remaining optimistic’

“You always have to be optimistic. What we are talking about are people’s rights, what we are talking about is not a Sinn Féin wish list. It is wish list to deliver rights for all our citizens,” Michelle O’Neill said on Thursday.

We remain willing and ready to do a deal under the right terms, to set up good government because that’s what the people want. They gave us a strong mandate for government to take the difficult decisions that is required.

There is a changing demographic in the North. There is a new generation of people who were born after the Good Friday Agreement. There is also a changing political landscape to coincide with that.

In the recent elections in Northern Ireland, the DUP scraped into first place, with Sinn Féin just one seat behind - meaning unionist parties no longer command a majority leadership for the first time since the province was created in 1921.

That has to be a difficult pill to swallow, but it also appears to be the backbone to Sinn Féin’s message that power-sharing has to be looked at now with a fresh pair of eyes. It is no longer a case of merely keeping the institution ticking along and avoiding the breakout of violence.

Leading from the front 

It certainly is a very new situation for everyone involved, and one that requires skill and diplomacy to navigate.

When a deal will finally be struck is anyone’s guess, and another big questions then looms. Will Adams be there to see it through?

There was mutterings that the Sinn Féin president might retire from the top job this year, but with stalemate in the North, he can hardly go anywhere.

When put to the party leader this week, he said:

Well do you mean am I going to be Uachtaráin Sinn Féin when there is a united Ireland? I think that is unlikely, but I think I will be through this process.

“So a deal will be done before you step down?”

“Please God yes,” replied Adams.

Read: ‘What’s wrong with someone who wants to live through Irish?’ – Sinn Féin hits back at DUP

Read: DUP and Sinn Féin have just 24 hours to reach a deal – so what happens if they don’t?>

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