Leading article

Spotlight on DUP over Stormont talks

When former taoiseach Bertie Ahern suggested at the weekend that the main Stormont parties should start talks early in the new year with a view to restoring our power-sharing structures, it is likely that almost everyone on both sides of our divided society will have agreed with him.

Mr Ahern, speaking before a conference at Yale University in the US, said he hoped that the negotiations could start as soon as January, and there are good reasons to believe that his proposed timetable is achievable.

The huge problem is that what was widely regarded as an acceptable solution to our difficulties was almost past the post ten months ago, only for the DUP, which had repeatedly hinted it was ready to sign a deal, to pull out at the eleventh hour,

There can be no doubt that the DUP, despite enjoying its short-term prominence at Westminster, is in a much weaker position over the terms of any resumption of the devolved Assembly than it was last February.

The public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal has left the DUP comprehensively exposed as an organisation which is dysfunctional at a number of levels and which cannot be allowed to return to power at Stormont without accepting the need for major internal changes.

It is obvious that the DUP will have to remove most of its special advisers from their previous roles but the key question is whether or not Arlene Foster can survive as leader.

If she is directly criticised when Sir Patrick Coghlin, who has given the unmistakable impression that he is deeply concerned about the evidence he has heard from a range of DUP figures in the course of the RHI public inquiry, delivers his final report, it is almost impossible to see how she can survive.

Mrs Foster will also be acutely aware that her predecessor as DUP leader, Peter Robinson, in a series of intriguing interventions implying that his party has lost its direction, has effectively suggested that he would have no difficulty extending the language acts already in place in Scotland and Wales across the Irish Sea.

Such a move, together with advances on a number of rights issues, could transform the wider debate, and allow the DUP to indicate if it was seriously interested in reviving our cross community administration,

While all our main parties bear a degree of responsibility for the present stalemate, the main emphasis, after the way in it has placed itself in an increasingly unforgiving spotlight, must remain on the intentions of the DUP

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