On Monday in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said what many were thinking.

In a few words, he dismissed the idea of some big negotiation going on that might yet produce some early agreement to restore the Assembly and the Executive.

It was a difficult enough task before Theresa May’s announcement on a snap General Election on June 8. Now – most would agree – it is impossible.

So, Eastwood said it was time to be honest with people – to end the pretence.

“The idea that we are going to get a deal in these circumstances is not credible,” he added.

Eastwood had hoped that Monday’s leaders’ meeting would have been the last in this latest phase of the talks, but there has been a decision to continue with bilateral discussions pending a review of the negotiations on Thursday.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan will be part of that review.

If they park the talks until after June 8, then the time between now and then should be used to find people from outside politics to chair and shape these negotiations.

Just read the latest blog from Sinn Fein’s National Chair Declan Kearney and you see the mountain that has yet to be climbed. You also read that this talks format is not working.



There is, of course, another view of all of this. Still those questioning whether Sinn Fein really wants a deal; this sense that the bar has been deliberately set too high to make an agreement impossible for the DUP – not just on an Irish Language Act, marriage equality and the vexed legacy questions, but the Sinn Fein position that Arlene Foster cannot serve in an Executive until after the report of the public inquiry into the RHI debacle.

There is little trust within these talks and, now, there is to be another election.

More voting and counting after the March results that changed so much in the politics of this place; the unionist majority at Stormont gone – the arithmetic within the negotiations completely different.

Now, all the nervousness and uncertainty of another election; all the predictability of such contests in the past now gone.

We see the shaping of the unionist pact. The unilateral decision of the Ulster Unionist Party not to stand candidates in Foyle and in West and North Belfast, and the DUP giving sitting MP Tom Elliott a free run in Fermanagh South Tyrone. Holding that seat will be a huge challenge.

The unionist parties still have to work out their plans for East and South Belfast.

But this election is not just about a unionist pact. What might the anti-Brexit parties produce in terms of an agreed strategy?

Alliance leader Naomi Long has already dismissed the idea of a pact, but others are talking.

The Green Party has been involved but, with Alliance making their position absolutely clear, could Steven Agnew agree to be part of a pact involving Sinn Fein and the SDLP?

My hunch is that the answer is likely – no. (This was confirmed by The Green Party on Tuesday at lunchtime).

Eastwood would prefer the maximum number of parties involved.

So what is his thinking? Take one constituency – North Belfast. He is not interested in taking his party out of the race to give Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein a free run but, instead, is thinking about a candidate – possibly an independent – who would run with the support of the anti-Brexit parties.

Is there time to find such a candidate and to achieve such agreement?

It is a big ask. Elsewhere, could Sinn Fein unilaterally withdraw in South Belfast?

The big decisions on this election have yet to be made but, on the far side of the counting, it will be back to the talks table.



If it is back to the same talking in circles or not talking at all, then there will be no agreement.

If it is back to talks being steered by the British and Irish Governments then there will be no agreement. There is not the trust.

This is why these talks need help from elsewhere – an international figure assisted by those with local knowledge; people such as former Methodist President Harold Good.

The legacy issue needs to be lifted out of the talks perhaps to allow for a Patten-type report that asks an outside team to make recommendations. That team should consult with the governments and parties but should not be directed by them.

It should be an independent report with proposals on a way forward.

If the past remains within these talks, bogged down on a political battlefield or kicked down the road into a public consultation, then there will be more stalling – more arguments, more disagreements.

Do we want these talks to work or not work?

Do we want to address the past or avoid the past? Do we want an Assembly? Do we want an Agreement?

These are questions that will be asked again after the June 8 election.

4 thoughts on “WATCHING AS THE TALKS CRUMBLE – By Brian Rowan

  1. Tell them their MLA’s wages will stopped if no agreement or Lock them in a Room at Stormont with no windows & through in 1,000’s of stink bombs & tell the Parties they’re not getting out until they reach an agreement & get Stormont back up & running.

  2. Really? You want the Tories to control your future and your finances? If they think anything ‘north of the Watford Gap’ is pre-history, what do you think they make of us and our minute plot of land? They don’t ‘get’ us, they don’t ‘get’ the specifity of our issues and they don’t care enough to try. We have been a constant drain on U.K. resources for what seems to them like milennia. We hang on mammy Theresas’ apron strings howling for attention and hoping, pathetically, to be made to feel ‘special’. When we fight with our siblings we expect mammy T to understand our difficult early years, our resulting trauma and “take our side”. And sometimes she will. When she needs a few votes from needy DUP political adolescents, but, most of the time she won’t. And we’ll continue to stand outside Westminster with our noses pressed against the glass waiting to see whether we’re to be included or excluded.
    The time has come to let go of the apron strings, grow up and develop our own sense of worth and efficacy. We need to become political adults.

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