John Manley: It's difficult to disagree with DUP over Sinn Féin's talks 'stunt'
IT’S difficult to disagree with Simon Hamilton’s characterisation of Sinn Féin’s call for the resumption of Stormont talks next week as a “stunt”.
Granted, it may have been a reasonably clever stunt which on a slow news day created the impression that republicans are eager to get the negotiations underway.
Nevertheless, there was already a general expectation that preparations for talks, if not full-blown negotiations, would begin around the end of August or beginning of September.
Beyond bringing the schedule forward by approximately seven days to a bank holiday Monday, if there was anything fresh in Sunday’s statement and subsequent remarks yesterday from Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O’Neill it was the call for a “focused and time limited” process.
The need for such an approach is glaringly apparent to all sides, given the lacklustre nature of previous efforts to restore devolution.
On the basis of what we’ve witnessed over the past six months, failure to impose a deadline would likely see us drift well into next year, with the same platitudes repeated at the end of every session.
While his role has been criticised in the past, it's difficult not to concede that Secretary of State James Brokenshire is adopting the correct approach this time around.
Rather than simply assembling all the parties at Stormont for a re-run of efforts to get the executive back up, Mr Brokenshire is attempting to do some ground work that he hopes will increase the likelihood of success.
He’ll be in Dublin today to meet Simon Coveney and he’ll talk to the parties before the end of the week, ahead of deciding his next move.
It’s not known what the secretary of state has in mind to bring a new dynamic to the process but the exact timing isn’t really an issue.
Whether the talks begin next week or the week after is immaterial if the cross-party desire to see them succeed isn’t there.
So far, there’s nothing to suggest that either the DUP or Sinn Féin is ready to compromise and the longer their prolonged feud lasts, the less the public’s appetite or optimism for a restored executive.
The two governments’ strategy for the negotiations must therefore be ruthless – make them focused and intense, while ensuring there are no ready-made excuses for people to walk away.
And if that fails, perhaps it’s time to consider an approach that bypasses Stormont entirely?