With every fresh revelation, Arlene Foster’s authority diminishes

Posted By: February 24, 2018


Distributed by Irish National Caucus

Fallout from Stormont talks hasn’t played well for DUP or its leader

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, February 24, 2018

You suspect Arlene Foster may regret putting the kibosh on the Stormont talks last week. The fallout over the past ten days has not played well for the DUP or its leader. There has been a catalog of inconsistent and contradictory accounts of where the negotiations had reached and what was on the table. With every revelation, Mrs. Foster’s authority diminishes, while the party once regarded as monolithic and professional suddenly appears at sixes and sevens.

Sir. Jeffrey Donaldson’s claim that he was unaware of any deal between Sinn Féin and the British government to release money for Troubles legacy inquests beggars belief. As the DUP’s ‘go to’ man on legacy issues, it appears incredible that the Lagan Valley MP was unaware of this apparent side deal – and even more so given that one week earlier Mary Lou McDonald told a Stormont press conference that Sinn Féin had struck a separate deal with the  British government. Again, it points to a gaping disconnect between the DUP negotiating team and the rest of the party.

Mrs. Foster’s short statement yesterday further muddies the waters. She did not refute knowledge of a deal per se but said no one in her party was aware of inquest funding being progressed “in the absence of an overall agreement.”

The former first minister said it was common knowledge that Sinn Féin were in discussions with the British government over legacy matters but that it would be “astonishing” if the funds were released without a deal to restore devolution. It is equally astonishing that Sir Jeffrey was kept completely in the dark.

The glee with which Sinn Féin negotiator Gerry Kelly outlined the details of how matters were agreed highlighted the degree to which his party appears to be enjoying the DUP disarray. But while the exchange made captivating television, it only serves to drive deeper divisions between the two prospective partners in government.

Whether by accident or design, Republicans have emerged from the events of the past fortnight on the front foot. It often appears Sinn Féin has only a modest appetite for returning to Stormont and in the time since Valentine’s Day the DUP has gifted Republicans the perfect riposte to its critics in The South who hoped to gain an advantage by pointing to dormant institutions north of the Border. The proposed deal itself may have been comparable to a score draw but it’s clear Republicans have run rings around the DUP in the aftermath of the talks collapsing.

Yet, sadly, all these shenanigans simply sets the process back further and makes the prospect of agreement any time soon increasingly remote.