A spirit of compromise is needed in Stormont

A spirit of compromise is needed in abundance at today’s talks.

A spirit of compromise is needed in abundance at today’s talks

Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers will today begin a fresh round of political talks at Stormont aimed at resolving long-standing sores which have severely hampered the ability of ministers in Belfast to govern.

At stake are the thorny issues of parades, the flying of flags, the legacy of the past, welfare reforms and the operation of the devolved institutions. For the sake of the people of Northern Ireland these talks need to succeed to prove that devolution really can deliver for them and to show that their trust in the Good Friday agreement is not being betrayed.

The omens unfortunately do not look good.

The DUP have already made clear their intention not to attend the first day of meetings which, they argue, amount to a pointless media circus, with a number of members of the party voicing opposition also to the involvement of the Irish government in talks about internal Northern Irish matters.

Ministers at Stormont have been forced to go cap in hand to the treasury for a loan of £100 million to help plug a substantial budget cap inflicted in large part as a result of Sinn Fein and the SDLP’s opposition to implementing a number of the UK government’s welfare reform. This is despite even Ed Miliband having   called on all parties in Northern Ireland to accept the reforms to avoid the £87 million penalty Stormont now faces.

All this goes alongside a near total paralysis at the heart of government with both the DUP and Sinn Fein achieving a remarkable feat in making the ConDem coalition in Westminster look good.

Earlier this week, one Sinn Fein MLA accused the DUP of an “anti-equality agenda” for blocking the appointment of Sinn Fein’s Mitchel McLaughlin as a replacement for William Hay as speaker of the Assembly. Meanwhile at the start of the year, Peter Robinson accused deputy first minister Martin McGuinness of acting like a “dictator” over the Hass talks and having a “visceral hatred” of the Orange Order.

McGuinness in kind has today used an article in the Belfast Telegraph to warn that the DUP’s “bad faith” is leading to a crisis at the very heart of the Stormont Government.

During Tuesday’s debate in the House of Commons on the future of devolution across the UK following the Scottish referendum, Northern Ireland’s MPs argued that whatever extra powers Holyrood gets Stormont should get as well.

“Where Scotland goes, in terms of devolution with increased powers,” said DUP MP Ian Paisley Junior during the debate. “Northern Ireland is destined to follow. I call on Lord Smith to make contact with the Northern Ireland parties and engage us in that process.”

For this to become a reality, however, Northern Ireland’s leaders need to prove that they can properly govern and manage the policy areas they already have control over. At present it is in no fit state to run a proverbial in a brewery, let alone cope with even more powers for the parties not to agree on.

Former DUP first minister Ian Paisley’s death earlier this year reminded us of a politician who maintained his beliefs but recognised that compromise is an essential element to any politicians tool kit if they are to make things work for the people they seek to represent. Such a spirit of compromise is needed in abundance as today’s talks begin.

David Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny have asked for a progress update on the talks by the end of November. At present, any progress made by then would be a miracle. It would, sadly, be unwise to hold our breaths for an imminent breakthrough.

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