The news that the talks at Stormont, aimed at kick-starting the Northern Ireland Executive, are to be put on hold until after the summer break does not really come as any surprise.

There seems nothing to suggest confidence in a ‘deal’ being any more likely come September in the statements made by the DUP

or Sinn Fein

So for now it’s the blame game. A consequence of Sinn Fein shifting goalposts and widening agendas indicate the politics of attrition rather than accommodation. Who will blink first?

Over the last few weeks (and even months) Sinn Fein’s position has mostly hardened. It has thrown a number of stumbling blocks in the way of any agreement. These include: a stand-alone Irish Language Act, rather than a compromise of a Cultural Act; same-sex marriage (despite the maths of the new Assembly suggesting the DUP would no longer be able to stand in the way of that: though may have should there be another election!); and that Arlene Foster, as Leader of the largest Unionist Party, should not be First Minister while the RHI Inquiry under Sir Patrick Coghlin is in play – and that looks increasingly like a few years…

There are many Unionists questioning whether Sinn Fein wants a deal at all – sure the opening positioning from Sinn Fein was setting a bar that would have been too high for any Unionist Leader to be able to reach; it may have been expected for those initial asks to have had some inbuilt wriggle room. It would seem not.

Back in March Sinn Fein saw a surge in support in the Assembly election, reducing the DUP to just having one more seat than them; and below the 30 seat ability to singly initiate the procedural Petition of Concern that gave the DUP a virtual veto on any new legislation.

Sinn Fein had the air of having Unionism in the corner. Its demands were high because it believed it was in a position to strike at a weak opponent.

The unexpected General Election in May was not within Sinn Fein’s control. Unionism responded strongly to the triumphalism of Sinn Fein in March. Unionism suddenly, and quickly had a space to consolidate and strengthen its position from the 2nd March. Unionism showed how it too could be organised, to consolidate and strengthen its vote.

For Sinn Fein, the collapse of Stormont and the choice of subsequent demands from talks represent a further push towards an United Ireland – something stalling through its ineffectiveness and poor performance in Ministerial office.

Unable to convince Unionists they would be better off in a United Ireland, Sinn Fein has returned to the strategy of having everyone else force Unionism into conceding space and reducing the footprint of the ‘British State’ in Ireland.

The sole purpose in demanding a standalone Irish Language Act is not about equality, but rather creating a special status for a language less widespread than Polish in Northern Ireland. In that sense it is about inequality by creating a body, a group right, that provides cultural advantage for a few.

On being elected for South Antrim, key Sinn Fein Strategist, Declan Kearney, told a reporter that the ‘peace process’ was at a very advanced stage. Few take Sinn Fein’s use of the term ‘peace process’ to mean anything more than its United Ireland’ project.

Sinn Fein sold the Good Friday Agreement to its core voting base on the basis that they would achieve their goal – a United Ireland by 2016, not a Legislative Assembly, under the Crown, within a partitioned island.

This approach informs everything Sinn Fein does. Having largely sat out the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, it identified opportunity in calling for ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland – to again undermine the connectivity with the British State. That hasn’t gone so well either.

What has been most noticeable since the General Election has been a reversion to default as Sinn Fein endeavours to recalibrate in the wake of the unexpected turn of events.

For Unionists, not having a working devolved Assembly may not be viewed as ‘good news’, but the nature of the institutions, consociationalist as set out in the 1998 Agreement, basically allows one party to hold everyone else to ransom. Sinn Fein is never more happy that playing the victim and making demands. It is a default position, it also fits into their Maze-Marxist playbook of permanent revolution. Forever looking to ‘break the bastards’.

The Great War, or World War One, is argued to have been a ‘war of attrition’. In July 1916, in order to break the deadlock, Britain, on behalf of its Allies – principally the French – launched the Battle of the Somme. While this bloody battle did not end the war, it broke the morale of the Germans; demonstrating for the first time since the beginning of the war that the Allies were resolutely determined to bring the Germans to their knees.

Unionism therefore must remain on solid ground in the current talks at Stormont. This is key to survival in any war of attrition, ready to meet any challenge. There will be no let up, no end to the demands from Sinn Fein.
This past election has shown it has the capacity to respond to any aggression or triumphalism by Irish Republicanism. Unionism must be ever vigilant, always ready.