Hyped process will likely fail – even if it succeeds

Posted By: April 11, 2017

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Tuesday, April 11, 2011

ONCE upon a time negotiations involving the north’s political parties had real news value.

Rewind 19 years to the Good Friday Agreement and, if you’re old enough, recall how banks of international crews gathered with hordes of journalists from these islands to report on every twist and turn en route to the signing of the historic accord.

Visit Stormont over the past week or so and you’re lucky if you see a solitary local radio reporter loitering in the Great Hall.

For the most part, the media has decided that resources are better deployed elsewhere – there’s only so many times an audience can hear Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O’Neill insisting there’ll be “no return to the status quo”, or the DUP criticizing Republicans for making demands.

Progress in the negotiations has been painfully slow and the accompanying daily platitudes equally tortuous.

The political reporters will forlornly return to Stormont over the coming days as the latest process reaches a conclusion, which is more likely to be a petering out than any kind of climax in the mouth of Friday’s deadline.

Talk of intensification, a redoubling of efforts, or a step up will be greeted with appropriate disdain, as it seems nothing can inject any dynamism into this process.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire must surely shoulder much of the blame for two consecutive talks processes that have been memorable for one thing only – being utterly lackluster.

Threats about the consequences of failing to find agreement have done nothing to focus minds, while his ‘player’ status – as a representative of the British government – has apparently helped block any resolution to the legacy component.

The DUP and Sinn Féin are also culpable. Surely, they must know exactly what is required to restore the institutions yet they lack the necessary desire and flexibility to do a deal.

We seem to have got to the stage where the only reason the parties continue to attend is to escape blame for collapsing the negotiations.

Health officials and those in the voluntary sector have warned of the grave repercussions if differences aren’t resolved, with civil servants and then British ministers taking responsibility for the region’s administration on a squeezed budget.

It may well turn out to be a disaster with no local politicians making decisions for local people.

On the other hand, it might just resemble the inertia of much of the past 10 years, when for all the talk of political stability on the hill, Stormont lurched from one crisis to another and achieved comparatively little, save for a projected £490m overspend.

As Friday’s deadline looms, it is little wonder the public has lost interest in the Stormont parties’ posturing and the outcome of another hyped process that, even if successful, will most likely end in failure.