Arlene Foster’s remarks leave little wriggle room

Posted By: February 15, 2018

DUP nervousness has shifted the dynamic of negotiations completely

John Manley. Irish New. Belfast. Wednesday, February 14, 2018

FOR Arlene Foster to carry out a series of media interviews while negotiations with Sinn Féin are supposed to be continuing is highly unusual.

It is not something you do when in a position of strength and suggests the DUP leader is feeling the pressure.

It’s believed many of her party representatives were unhappy with what they heard when some of the detail of a planned deal to restore the devolved institutions was shared earlier this week.

This nervousness has shifted the dynamic of the negotiations completely. Where previously it was Sinn Féin that had to be coaxed back into the executive, it now appears republicans are relatively happy with what’s on the table.

It looks increasingly like it was the DUP that kiboshed the deal when Theresa May and Leo Varadkar were in town on Monday, a move that must have surely tried the patience of the Tory leader.

The unease among DUP MLAs and MPs is also thought to reflect disquiet among unionist grassroots and the Orange Order.

Some believe it’s no coincidence that Mrs. Foster’s series of interviews came as the Orange Order reaffirmed its opposition to any form of Irish language act – “no matter what it’s called or how it’s packaged”.

The DUP leader, pictured, who despite repeated requests has declined to speak to The Irish News, has said the same in the past but if there is to be deal with Sinn Féin then she’ll have to acquiesce to an acht na Gaeilge in one form or another.

In a Press Association interview yesterday, she ruled out bilingual road signs, compulsory teaching of Irish in schools, and quotas of Irish language speakers within the civil service.

Stressing that her party won’t be cajoled by deadlines and suggesting a deal could be two months or more away, Mrs. Foster also insisted there would be no standalone legislation – a demand Sinn Féin has been unambiguous about for the past year.

Some have suggested she adopted a tried and tested DUP tactic of creating straw man arguments, by citing things that bear little relation to what is really in proposed legislation.

Arguably it helps fuel claims that republicans aren’t really that interested in restoring devolution and that Sinn Féin has deliberately designed its red lines to ensure the DUP is ultimately cast as intransigent.

However, Mrs. Foster’s assertion about a free-standing Irish language act creates a scenario with little wriggle room where one side must inevitably concede ground if agreement is to be found.

Her comments suggest the chances of a deal in the coming days are remote, even if Sinn Féin has stated that it expects the talks conclude this week.

The optimism of recent days looks increasingly misplaced and with Monday’s window of opportunity now slammed shut, it would seem we could be back at square one.