Newton Emerson: Good Friday Disagreement narrowly avoided - The Irish News
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Newton Emerson: Good Friday Disagreement narrowly avoided

Talks at Stormont will continue after Easter, with Sinn Féin hinting it wants another election.

THE Good Friday Disagreement is not to be, after talks at Stormont were extended past yesterday's NIO deadline.

A mocking pun is the least of the ridicule that had to be avoided, as the talks timetable was never credible and republican demands are only straying farther from the supposed reasons for collapsing the executive.

Drawing red lines that guarantee failure risks crossing the line from tragedy to farce.

Worse still for a political culture addicted to crisis, public interest is clearly waning. When Sinn Féin hinted mid-week at moving straight to a second election, it did not appear to go down well.

Hence a little more time has been allowed to play on. Whether or not Sinn Féin actually wants a deal, it has to keep the idea that it wants a deal believable.

**

A BBC Panorama investigation into the Stakeknife case has provided an unwittingly timely reminder of one nuclear talks option.

It is clear the republican movement has been watched around the clock at every level for 40 years, leaving it vulnerable to certain kinds of 'truth recovery'.

Chief constable George Hamilton hinted as much last year when he warned that opening up all police files on the Troubles would please nobody.

Gerry Adams has now said a deal on the past is not necessary to restore devolution.

**

Arlene Foster still cannot find the right tone. The former first minister says she wants to meet Irish speakers but not those who use it as "a political weapon".

How on earth would such a distinction be defined, and what Gaeilgeoirí would take up this demeaning divide-and-conquer offer?

It is a poor sign for the DUP's handling of talks that it has so little guile.

Of course, culture is a political weapon in Northern Ireland - but sourly pointing that out does nothing to disarm an opponent.

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson both understood that when a tactical retreat is required, it should be presented as brave generosity.

In other words, you use compromise as a political weapon. Nobody meeting Foster need have much fear of that.

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Sinn Féin has placed a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland firmly back on the agenda, eight years after the project over-reached itself and collapsed.

The rights sector umbrella group set up to lobby for the bill - the Human Rights Consortium - is still in existence and should be delighted to see its goal suddenly resurrected.

Yet it seems oddly muted on the subject and if anything is doing less campaigning than normal.

Perhaps the Consortium does not want its work to be too closely associated with Sinn Féin - it is certainly engaging with every other party in favour of a bill.

However, by far the best way to address concerns of apparent imbalance would be to approach the DUP, even for an off-the-record discussion.

I understand this still has not happened.

**

Former secretary of state Theresa Villiers has been pulled up by An Phoblacht for advocating the reunification of Cyprus.

"It is a grave injustice that the island was forcibly divided... and I will continue to work to support efforts to reunite it as one country with a single international personality and single citizenship," she told a meeting of Greek Cypriots in her Chipping Barnet constituency.

Oh dear, oh dear. Villiers has long been a Greek Cypriot supporter and has become more outspoken since leaving the cabinet last July.

However, she was fairly forthright on the issue throughout her time at Hillsborough Castle - in 2014 she denounced Turkish gas exploration around the island as an "invasion".

Northern Ireland's media just wasn't paying enough attention to Chipping Barnet to notice.

Sadder still, Villiers' local press must have been oblivious to her role in Northern Ireland altogether.

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Dungannon-based meat processor Dunbia has denied it is planning to relocate to Britain due to Brexit, although it has not commented on reports that it considered the move.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, the company's concern was the effect customs checks across the Irish Sea might have on deliveries to British supermarkets.

Such checks are being suggested as a way to avoid a hard border in Ireland, partly to discourage firms relocating to the Republic.

Whatever was discussed in Dunbia's boardroom, a critical point has been raised - the Irish Sea solution carries its own risks.

**

The DUP's 2016 Stormont manifesto promised an anti-litter policy based on "Don't mess with Texas", an iconic 1980s campaign in the Lone Star State.

Although this was not mentioned in the DUP's 2017 manifesto the party has let it be known that it has not dropped the pledge and still hopes to enact it if the executive is reformed.

Perhaps this enthusiasm is explained by how Texans famously took to their slogan as a badge of regional identity.

A DUP spokesperson has implied to the Belfast Telegraph that the slogan "Don't mess with Northern Ireland" would be used. Who could possibly object to that?

newton@irishnews.com

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