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ANALYSIS: Downing Street meetings were political theatre without any drama

The Sinn Féin delegation outside Number 10 Downing Street

It's difficult to think what Theresa May imagined she would achieve with her snap invitations to Downing Street but then this is prime minister who is becoming increasingly renowned for her poor judgment. If she was seeking to allay the fears of the DUP's rivals about the mooted DUP deal while giving assurances that her government is impartial in the talks process it hasn't worked. Those concerns remain and were re-stated by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance as each left Number 10 yesterday.

The prime minister was less enthusiastic about meeting the same parties a month ago when she jetted into the north for a flying visit to Balmoral Show and a entirely coincidental meeting with Arlene Foster, the party leader who just weeks later would provide the prop for Mrs May's precarious minority government. The deal that will ensure DUP support over the coming months has yet to be finalised, its content remains speculation. Yesterday's meetings failed to shed any light on what is being discussed by the British government and the DUP, so suspicions about it benefitting unionist sectional interests will inevitably persist.

Mrs May met each of the parties in Number 10's cabinet room, facing each respective delegation across the table where big, historical decisions are made. One of those present said the prime minister was engaging and in listening mode though how she acts on what she heard will only become apparent over the days, weeks and months ahead – if she lasts that long.

Essentially this was political theatre that lacked any drama, an opportunity to demonstrate that the Tories' interest in Northern Ireland extends beyond expediency and the DUP.

Given that nothing substantive emerged from the meetings, yesterday merely underlined the sense that this was all about the optics and only reaffirmed the notion that the Tories' interest in Northern Ireland is solely about expediency and the DUP.

 

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