Political news

McGuinness's resignation focuses minds but relations may be damaged irreparably

Relations between the DUP and Sinn Féin have suffered a major setback thanks to the RHI controversy. Picture by Hugh Russell
Analysis by John Manley

MARTIN McGuinness's surprise resignation announcement on Monday has certainly focused minds.

A previously inflexible DUP is suddenly proposing a public inquiry to help restore confidence in the Stormont institutions and the party is more than willing to sit down with Sinn Féin and talk through the difficulties that have brought devolution to the brink of collapse.

At this rate, Arlene Foster could be proposing an Irish language act by the end of week – just don't expect her to step aside.

Whether there is genuine contrition and an acceptance of accountability from the former first minister and her party is debatable.

Observing the manner the DUP has been forced to manoeuvre and concede ground since Christmas is perhaps illustrative of how much it fears a snap election.

The talk of disenchantment among its normally loyal electorate is largely anecdotal but the unrelenting media coverage linking Mrs Foster to one of the biggest scandals in Stormont's history will certainly not win her support.

Sinn Féin, on the other hand, appears to relish the prospect of an early election and is dismissive of suggestions that a deal can be brokered before next Monday's deadline to save the Executive.

Republicans maintain the decision to bring down the curtain was a reaction not solely to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) debacle and Mrs Foster's refusal to stand aside but a culmination of factors.

They claim the DUP has never been serious about a shared future and therefore last minute promises to do better in the future are falling on deaf ears.

Notably, just a matter of weeks ago, there was nothing to suggest Sinn Féin was unhappy with Stormont's marriage of convenience.

A joint platform from Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness published in this paper at the beginning of November promised "no gimmicks, no grandstanding". They told us politics was changing: "And it's for the better – the focus is increasingly now on policies and delivery".

After the recrimination of the RHI fall-out and petty acts like Paul Givan's cutting of the Líofa bursaries, it's difficult to see how damaged relations can be mended in a hurry.

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