Dublin and London increasingly optimistic about deal to restore devolution
THERE is an increased expectation in Dublin and London that the DUP and Sinn Féin will strike a deal in the coming weeks to restore devolution, The Irish News understands.
Ahead of fresh talks next week, both the Irish and British governments have voiced optimism over the prospects for a breakthrough in the political impasse.
In recent days, DUP leader Arlene Foster and her Sinn Féin counterpart Mary Lou McDonald have separately signalled a clear desire to restore the Stormont institutions, which collapsed in January 2017.
Growing public anger over the crisis in the health service, coupled with the prospect of an assembly election if a deal is not struck by mid-January, is believed to have fuelled the big two parties’ appetite for seeking an accommodation.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney will be in Belfast on Monday to oversee the latest round of negotiations, though it remains to be seen whether he will be joined by Julian Smith, whose future as secretary of state is likely to be determined by the outcome of Thursday’s Westminster election.
“Without underestimating the difficulties, the Dublin and London governments are relatively positive about what’s being said privately and publicly,” one source close to the talks said.
Notably, when contacted by The Irish News last night, there was little effort from either the DUP and Sinn Féin to play down the two governments’ optimistic tone.
A Sinn Féin spokesman said the party leadership had made its stance on the restoration of devolution clear in recent statements, while a DUP spokesman said his party wanted “to get Northern Ireland moving again with restored assembly and executive”.
Writing in the latest issue of republican newspaper An Phoblacht, Ms McDonald claimed power-sharing could be “up and running by Christmas time or early in the New Year”.
Her comments came after the party’s former president Gerry Adams last week predicted the return of Stormont.
Last Friday, Mrs Foster said there was “renewed optimism” over breaking the political impasse.
Countless rounds of negotiations since Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister nearly three years ago have failed to secure agreement.
In February last year, the DUP walked away from a draft deal that included legislation on the Irish language. The party characterised it as being “bad for unionism”.
Fresh talks were called in the aftermath of the murder of Lyra McKee in April and while they failed to yield agreement, a number of working groups helped lay the template for a revised deal.