Something has to change – and quickly – if Stormont is to survive the political fallout of recent times.
Phase two of the talking, which began last Monday, may well have some more structure, but little else.
“Too slow, no route to agreement, too much ‘f***ingaboutery’ on process,” was the blunt assessment of one insider.
It was a week for rolling eyes. Another period of talking that suggests little or no progress – perhaps another week wasted on a timetable that cannot afford such delay.
There is a different context to these talks that it seems some have not yet grasped.
The decision of Martin McGuinness to resign – to bring down the political institutions – was a popular one, and the election that followed changed everything. It ended the unionist majority at Stormont.
“Some would suggest Brexit was the cause,” new Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said at the weekend – “but who really thinks the reckless talk of crocodiles or the tactless decision to remove a £50,000 means tested scheme for young people to learn Irish had any other impact but to drive people to the polls?” he asked.
Swann reads the situation correctly.
That vote put Sinn Fein within a seat of the DUP – a little over a thousand votes now separates them and, in the wider Stormont frame, the overall unionist majority has gone.
This is the new context and that arithmetic is now part of these negotiations.
There is nothing to suggest that Adams will shift on the demand for a self-standing Irish Language Act.
And, within these talks, it is not just Sinn Fein who are insisting on this: “Given the attitude displayed by DUP politicians about the Irish language, it is now essential that we have an Irish Language Act that protects the rights of Irish language speakers,” SDLP leader Colum Eastwood told this website.
“This issue has come to symbolise the perceived attack on Irish identity and we need to move to a situation where all identities are equally respected,” he said.
This is but one issue. There are many others on which implementation is being demanded. Legacy is another; still bogged down in arguments about national security, a re-writing of history and the question of investigations.
On Tuesday, journalist John Ware will report on Operation Kenova – the Stakeknife investigation that will search the corners of the IRA and the places of intelligence:
“This is a Panorama investigation that confirms the grim reality of what was quite clearly more of an armed insurgency than ever a law and order context that successive ministers insisted on portraying it as,” Ware told eamonnmallie.com
“It’s also a commentary and a warning to be scrupulous in judging yesterday’s conduct with the benefit of post-conflict hindsight,” he said.
The past needs to be addressed within the frame of a political and peace process – not a police process.
Can governments and politicians do that?
Remember the reaction to the arrest of Gerry Adams in 2014. Watch for the reaction of others when, in their eyes, the ‘wrong person’ or the ‘wrong people’ are arrested.
As the debate on the past festers, it appears the aim is more some parade of shame rather than achieving answers alongside whatever healing and reconciliation are possible.
It is not a public consultation that is needed, but a completely different approach.
At the weekend, former Methodist President Harold Good was in Bayonne assisting the process of Eta disarmament. Also there was Chris Maccabe – former political director at the NIO.
Alongside some international figure, what could they bring to the legacy discussion here that could move it beyond this political battle.
For a start, they understand much more about this place than James Brokenshire and Charlie Flanagan ever will.
When he spoke in Bayonne on Saturday, Good looked beyond the Eta disarmament plan towards the “possibilities for a reconciliation and healing process”.
This is also needed here. The question of imprisonment needs to be addressed and there needs to be a realistic appraisal of what will be delivered from any information process. From governments, from the IRA, from loyalists, from others.
Recently John Kyle of the PUP wrote on this website: “We have procrastinated long enough to the detriment of victims and survivors. An inclusive process is essential and loyalism, which to date has been largely excluded from the process, is willing and ready to participate.”
Loyalists are still excluded. Would Harold Good make such a mistake on such an issue?
What is happening at Stormont Castle has all the appearance of business as usual – endless, pointless talking in circles.
Some think that Sinn Fein will step back from its stated position that it will not serve in an Executive with Arlene Foster until the report of the public inquiry into the RHI debacle is delivered.
Nothing has been said by Sinn Fein to suggest any such change in attitude.
These talks will not succeed if the plan and thinking is for some cobbled together deal. With some that penny has not yet dropped.
So, unless there are significant developments in the next few days, the Executive will not be restored.
The answer to this question is not yet clear.