CROSSROADS – CROSS WORDS – THE CASTLE CONUNDRUM – By Brian Rowan 

 

Image by Hugh Russell

 

In that Great Hall at Parliament Buildings ‪on Wednesday afternoon, Gerry Adams produced this thought – that “the optimism of the heart has to overcome the pessimism of the mind”.

The day before, he told me that these continuing talks at Stormont may be frustrating, but they are not pointless.

“Don’t write that headline yet”, was his advice.

As the talking pauses now for Easter, Adams also said on Wednesday that for many “negotiations have become a way of life”.

Is this the reality of peace-building and peace-making – that it becomes, and is, this seemingly endless process?

After Easter, there will be a third phase of talks – those talks that began after a March election that changed everything; the numbers in the Assembly, the unionist majority gone, the arithmetic in negotiations now so very different.

Early May is the next deadline in an elastic process that can always be stretched.

There may well have been some cross words on Wednesday, talk also of yet another political crossroads, but patience – that elastic – did not snap, not yet anyway.

 

 

In recent weeks, this website has obtained some of the papers from inside the talks – the fine detail of these continuing discussions.

There is not yet agreement on a legacy process; no shifting the national security issue out of its fixed position, no funding yet for legacy inquests.

This issue is being steered by British Secretary of State James Brokenshire towards public consultation – moved yet further down the road.

 

 

On Wednesday, the Irish Government produced a legacy paper and, not long afterwards, Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt raised concerns about Dublin’s redaction process and what that could mean for information sharing with the proposed Historical Investigations Unit. Nesbitt believes a “potential fatal flaw” has emerged.

This takes the discussion wider than British disclosure into the area of Irish disclosure.

Then, there is the issue of an Irish Language Act – this is critical if an agreement is to be made; not just a Sinn Fein demand, but also the firm position of the SDLP, represented on the working group by MLAs Patsy McGlone and Justin McNulty.

This website has seen a discussion paper on options circulated within the talks.

 

 

We see a tug-of-war over a stand-alone Act versus “a composite Bill with separate sections for Irish Language and Ulster Scots”; the need also for further discussion on whether it is “feasible to combine the roles of Irish Language Commissioner and Ulster Scots Commissioner into a single role or whether the roles should remain separate”.

Remember these are options, not agreements, the thinking out and talking out in those discussions inside the Castle at Stormont –  issues around which there is to be more talking after Easter.

There is interest in what DUP leader Arlene Foster had to say on Wednesday about listening to and engaging with people “who genuinely love the Irish language”.

“Adams hasn’t moved an inch,” one insider observed. “I don’t know how the DUP U-turn on this,” he added.

You can read too much into a comment. So, let’s just wait to see where this goes, or doesn’t go.

An armed forces or military covenant has also become part of the Stormont talking.

“The DUP have a paper out,” one source said, adding that Sir Jeffrey Donaldson spoke on the importance of this issue at a meeting on Wednesday.

There is talk also of a commissioner on this; again, talk at this stage – not an agreement.

Brokenshire put another election, however undesirable, back into the frame on Wednesday – this, or decision-making from Westminster, if agreement is not reached after Easter.

The elastic is being stretched again, not yet to breaking point, but Adams said yesterday that these talks “can’t go on indefinitely”.

They can’t. Soon we will know if this Castle Conundrum – this political puzzle – is any closer to being solved.

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