Are the talks in Northern Ireland making progress?

Six weeks ago, a fresh round of talks—the latest of many—began in Northern Ireland on the restoration of the devolved government which collapsed two and a half years ago.

In an oral question in the Lords on 20 June, Alistair Lexden asked what progress had been made. As usual, he was given a bland, optimistic answer by the Minister who said “this is a positive time in the talks; I believe that progress is being made”. No supporting evidence was adduced.

The Belfast press this week has been quoting far from optimistic comments from the Northern Ireland political parties. The most moderate of them, the Alliance Party, said “ there remains a lot of work to be done in the talks process.” The Sinn Fein leader said the talks were just “ tinkering around the edges”, though her party could well be largely responsible for that.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mrs Karen Bradley, invited the parties to a drinks reception this week. It had to be cancelled because they all refused to go. Confidence in Mrs Bradley is very low because of her shaky grasp of Northern Ireland politics and lack of negotiating skills. Progress may well prove elusive until a better Secretary of State is appointed, along with a prime minister capable of commanding confidence on all sides in Northern Ireland.

This week also brought an opinion poll which indicated that a majority of Conservative Party members would support Brexit even if it brought about the break-up of the United Kingdom. It is another terrible reflection on the current state of affairs that a Party which has always been firmly committed to the Union should be prepared to countenance its dissolution.

Follow the link to read the exchanges on 20 June: theyworkforyou