Leading article

New push to restore Assembly needed

There have been growing suggestions that full negotiations over the restoration of the Stormont institutions could start very shortly after the UK general election of December 12.

The DUP leader Arlene Foster, speaking at her party's annual conference last month, dropped a heavy hint about reaching an accommodation on a key question when she said that the Irish language and unionism were `not incompatible.'

When the Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill addressed her Ard Fheis at the weekend, she developed the same theme by declaring that she was ready to form a `credible executive.'

The relationship between the two central figures is vital to any breakthrough, and Ms O'Neill can stress that, despite a highly unusual challenge to her position from John O'Dowd, during which debate was discouraged and the voting figures were not revealed, she remains firmly in office.

Ms Foster is in much more uncertain territory, as she must first cope with a Westminster contest in which a number of DUP seats are under serious risk and then hope that she avoids sweeping criticism when the long awaited report of the Renewable Heat Incentive public inquiry is finally published.

There is still no reason to prevent proper discussions involving the main Assembly parties, the Irish government and whichever new administration emerges at Westminster from getting under way, preferably before Christmas and certainly in advance of the third anniversary of the collapse of devolution on January 16, 2017.

Suggestions that, unless new legislation is introduced, unwilling voters could be forced back to the polling stations at that stage should certainly help to concentrate minds.

What is essential is that any new power-sharing arrangements which are proposed follow the spirit of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and move decisively away from the poisonous atmosphere at Parliament Buildings where unelected special advisers were allowed to exercise an entirely disproportionate influence on proceedings.

The Irish language is far from the only issue concerning all sections of the community which needs to be resolved, but the previous refusal of the DUP to consider the equivalent of reasonable measures which were already in place for many decades in Scotland and Wales was plainly not sustainable.

If a more flexible approach, emphasising respect for both sides of our divided society, can be found, then better days could yet lie ahead at Stormont.

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