Three disputes hobbling Northern Ireland’s hopes for a post-election deal

Widow of murdered policeman calls on politicians to 'wise up'


Last week’s elections in Northern Ireland saw Unionists, for the first time, lose their majority at Stormont. It has been a week in which little progress in reforming a power sharing executive has been made.

So what are the sticking points to getting substantive, policy discussions, going?

  1. Future of Arlene Foster

With the election having been triggered over DUP Leader and then First Minister Arlene Foster’s involvement in the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, Sinn Fein had made clear that it cannot form part of a power sharing executive led by Foster as First Minister, until her involvement in the RHI is properly understood and resolved by the ongoing Sir Patrick Coghlin inquiry.

By the weekend, rumblings over Foster’s future began in earnest, with DUP MP Ian Paisley concluding on BBC Five Live that she needed to reflect seriously on election results that were a major blow for unionism.

By the start of the week the Belfast Telegraph was reporting that a third of DUP MLAs felt that Foster should stand aside from being nominated to be First Minister until the RHI inquiry had run its course.

By Tuesday, following a meeting with her party colleagues at Stormont, Foster was expressing delight at the support she had got from her colleagues. Yet further reports suggest that just a third of all MLAs would support her becoming First Minister again.

Today however it is reported that Foster has said Sinn Fein have so far not formally asked her to step aside until the RHI inquiry has reported.

Confused? You probably should be, but what is clear is that this is no way to form a government which serves all the people of Northern Ireland.

  1. Position of James Brokenshire

The second major problem for Sinn Fein remains the position of James Brokenshire as Northern Ireland Secretary who, the party says, cannot be an independent arbiter having upset republicans after arguing that investigations into killings carried out during the troubles were ‘disproportionately’ focusing on members of the police and army.

In January, Brokenshire was accused of snubbing the Irish after he failed to stand for the its national anthem during a Gaelic football match.

More broadly however, the Conservatives might find that their efforts to cosy up to the DUP in Westminster to ensure their support Brexit legislation could come back to haunt them. And remember David Cameron’s efforts to woo the DUP ahead of the 2015 election with a reception at Downing Street?

With Sinn having this week walked out of discussions with Brokenshire over what they described as his ‘waffle’, the UK government should seriously consider how much of a help it is in the current discussions.

  1. Threat of a Snap Election

Overhanging all of the talks is the threat that if the parties cannot sort themselves out, they face the threat, as Brokenshire has noted, of another snap election, although what that would achieve is unclear to say the least.

In perhaps one of the strongest interventions in the current talks, Kate Carroll, whose husband Stephen was the first member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be murdered by terrorists, has today called on politicians at Stormont to leave the past behind.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, she calls for those at Stormont to ‘wise up’ and ‘lead by example, not tribalism’.  ‘Stop showering us with your stubborn behaviour’, she says, adding:

“Everyone is fed up with it. Try to be impartial and leave the divisions where they belong, in the past.

I’m so fed up with today’s politics. I can only liken it to listening and watching a show of unruly, spoilt children in a playground.

But the fact is that it is our lives and those of our children that you are messing with.

For goodness sake put bitterness and bigotry out of politics, leave it where it belongs … in the past!”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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