Sunday 20 October 2019

John Downing: 'Both parties offer little hope of compromise to finally end the deadlock'

Fr Martin Magill made a powerful call to politicians
Fr Martin Magill made a powerful call to politicians
John Downing

John Downing

So, maybe we'll start talking about having talks about talks.

That's a hard, but fair assessment of responses from the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin to Fr Martin Magill's powerful call for Lyra McKee's murder to generate real political compromise in the North.

He was telling the North's politicians to get the power-sharing government and parliament, which has been idle since January 2017, back working.

For a brief period early yesterday morning, it seemed Fr Magill's strident call - which drew a rare standing ovation inside a church - was going to be heeded. The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, went on RTÉ radio to give her response, which did not break much new ground.

Ms Foster repeated her offer of a twin-track approach to ending the stalemate. The devolved institutions could be restored quickly to deal with those pressing issues like running the health service.

Then a separate process could address disagreements like same-sex marriage and Irish language rights legislation. Sinn Féin was quickly out there to say: no deal.

Deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said bluntly that the parallel process would not work. "The citizens here deserve to have their rights delivered on, marriage equality, language rights, legacy inquest rights. These things need to be delivered, and that in itself then paves the way for the institutions to be restored," Ms O'Neill insisted.

There was a sense that both parties were keener to avoid blame over more failures to make progress, than they were on resolving the impasse.

The one good thing was that both sides agreed there must be talks. Eventually, they might surprise us - but that would be a surprise. As always there is wrong on both sides. Language rights and gay rights are no trivial issues.

Both Scotland and Wales have language equality laws and so should the North. Equally, Lyra McKee's funeral service included a very strong gay symbolism.

It is also true that both parties came tantalisingly close to a workable compromise on February 14 last year. The clever formula provided for three inter-linked acts, one covering Irish, another Ulster Scots, and the third covering mutual respect for diversity.

Both sides got what they wanted - neither had to cave in. Then the DUP "bottled things" because it feared it could not sell the deal to its grassroots. But there is no point in Sinn Féin harping on about an old deal that cannot be sold. It would do better to stop elements in its party and allied bodies from allowing unionists to accuse it of "weaponising" Irish.

Lamentably, there is little hope from Democratic Unionist Party-Sinn Féin talks. Once again, 21 years after Good Friday, they need outside help.

Irish Independent

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