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Opinion: Time to restore Assembly

Ian Knox cartoon 14/12/19 

The inter-party talks which are due to commence at Stormont today have taken on immensely more significance in the wake of last week's dramatic UK general election.

There can be no doubt that, as far as the public is concerned, the return of our power-sharing institutions is essential and this message was sent out loudly and clearly from the ballot boxes.

The distraction of the DUP's confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservative government at Westminster has been consigned to the history books, and Arlene Foster knows that restoring the Executive is an absolute priority for her party.

With Nigel Dodds and Emma Little-Pengelly losing their seats, and Alex Easton failing to make a widely expected gain in North Down, the DUP is on the back foot and needs to demonstrate that it is capable of avoiding a long term decline as unionism finally comes to terms with its minority status.

When the Sinn Féin celebrations ease after John Finucane's huge North Belfast triumph, its senior figures will also have noted that, although it remains the main voice in nationalism, there were some disappointing trends elsewhere.

Another general election, this time south of the border, is looming, and logic dictates that regaining ministerial responsibilities at Parliament Buildings can help to boost Sinn Féin's overall standing.

Alliance and the SDLP are both on the crest of a wave after electoral breakthroughs and will want to develop their resurgence, while the Ulster Unionists have much to prove under new leader Steve Aiken.

All the signs point to getting the Assembly back in action, with the proviso that the institutions must be based on a respect for all traditions which had evaporated long before the collapse which took place nearly three years ago.

Introducing the kind of legislative protection for languages which has been in place in both Scotland and Wales for decades is part of the process, but addressing the massive issues linked to health, education and the economy has to be top of the agenda.

Dealing with the Brexit crisis will dominate the proceedings in the full knowledge that British prime minister Boris Johnson is entirely disinterested in the consequences of his policies here.

There will be a serious expectation that the forthcoming negotiations will produce a devolved administration which delivers positive achievements for all sections of the community without further delay.

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