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Respect needed on all sides in talks process

Secretary of state Karen Bradley and Tanaiste Simon Coveney will be relieved that the first hurdle of the latest round of talks has been overcome - namely that Sinn Féin has agreed to take part.

Otherwise the process would have been dead in the water but the two governments will be hoping that some progress can be made in what is being billed as a short time-frame for negotiations.

Mrs Bradley warned that failure to make 'rapid progress' will mean the UK government will have to make significant decisions, including setting a budget.

Simon Coveney also indicated that time was pressing saying a deal must be done in weeks rather than months.

Clearly, the British and Irish sides are keen to inject a bit of momentum into a moribund process but there is little sense that we are on the verge of a breakthrough.

There have been some signs of a change in tone from Arlene Foster in her Killarney speech last weekend as well as from former ministers John O'Dowd and Edwin Poots in their much-praised interview on The View last week.

Another indication of a small but welcome shift is the swift climbdown by DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who had called Leo Varadkar a 'nutcase' in an interview with Politico website, later expressing 'regret' for his choice of language.

Mr Wilson is a fervent climate change denier so it may have escaped his notice that the political climate has changed somewhat and engaging in personal insults and using derogatory terms for mental illness is now regarded as completely unacceptable.

Given that it is only days after the Barry McElduff controversy which drew criticism of Sinn Féin over its respect agenda, the DUP moved quickly to deal with a plainly disrespectful comment that it knew could not be defended.

If the talks due to begin next week are to have any hope of success then those involved must understand the need for respect among all the participants as well as a determination to find a way through the year-long impasse.

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