Political paralysis and stalemate is nothing new to these shores and we don’t just mean Brexit. It is easy to forget that Northern Ireland has been without a functioning devolved government since January 2017. That’s almost 28 months of a mothballed Stormont.
The collapse of the Assembly over the RHI scandal, the deeply entrenched and opposing positions on Brexit, coupled with inflammatory language from political leaders of all creeds has left a vacuum and perpetuated an environment of deep mistrust in Northern Ireland. It is not hyperbolic to suggest that this risks the years of progress we have seen since the Good Friday Agreement.
Last week we saw the tragic consequences of what can happen in such a vacuum with the senseless murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry by dissident Republican group the ‘New IRA’. A deplorable act with no place in civil society, but could something positive come out of this tragedy?
Following intensive discussions in Belfast and calls from a number of the local parties, the British and Irish Governments have this afternoon announced fresh talks (after local government elections next week) to restore power sharing to Northern Ireland.
But two immediate questions stand out. Most poignantly, as Father McGill presiding over Ms McKee’s funeral this week, challenged Northern Ireland’s political leaders in attendance, why has it taken the death of a young woman to bring them together in solidarity?
Secondly, and more cynically, will this time be any different? Sinn Fein and the DUP both say that they want the institutions restored but fundamentally there is no trust between the parties that is needed to share power and there is little trust from the public in the same political parties to govern. The sad reality is perhaps that despite the tragic events in Londonderry last week, political stakes remain high and entrenchment is deep. With local government elections, European Parliament elections and further battles on Brexit on the horizon, compromise will not be high on the agenda of either main party.