John Manley: Foster's smiles suggests she's safe for the meantime

Arlene Foster emerged smiling from yesterday's meeting at Stormont. Picture by Alan Lewis/Photopress

The most striking aspect of yesterday's developments at Stormont was the clear difference in Arlene Foster's demeanour.

After weeks of looking glum and under pressure, the DUP leader emerged from a meeting of the party's assembly team looking positively ebullient.

Perhaps her upbeat mood stemmed from the complete absence of any reporters at the hastily-arranged 'press conference' in Parliament Buildings, but according to party sources it was more a reflection of the positive response the DUP leader received at the first gathering of her party's MLAs since last week's election saw the DUP shed 10 seats.

There were lots of cheers for the embattled Mrs Foster from her MLAs, which suggests that for the meantime at least she has managed to avoid any challenge to her leadership. Her call for unionist unity may have distracted attention from her tenuous position but that doesn't mean her leadership won't be questioned further down the line.

Some observers have suggested that it was Sinn Féin who saved the former first minister's skin – if republicans hadn't called for her head by insisting they wouldn't accept her as first minister, she would've lost it.

The bilateral meetings between the five parties continued yesterday, as did the negotiating teams discussions with Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

Like Monday, the talks were essentially a slow-paced, temperature taking exercise, though they are expected to move up a gear today with the arrival of Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.

Sinn Féin is again expected to highlight the unsuitability of the secretary of state as talks' chairman, having yesterday broke off its meeting with Mr Brokenshire, accusing him of "waffle, waffle, and more waffle" on legacy issues.

That gesture will fuel the theory that Sinn Féin will seek to hinder and sabotage these negotiations, due to a lack of genuine will to make them work, however, the party's characterisation of the secretary of state does have a certain ring of familiarity about it.

After two days back at Stormont in the wake of a divisive election, the two big parties are keeping a lid on any animosity that exists between them, which could bode well for the coming weeks.

Conversely, it may just be a tactic that seeks to ensure it will be the other party that shoulders the blame if the process breaks down.

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