Another fallout on another issue on which agreement has become disagreement.
This time it is on the Past.
Sinn Fein emerged from a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday accusing her government of “bad faith” in relation to a planned consultation on legacy matters here.
The row relates to a recommendation from the Defence Select Committee for a statute of limitations for former members of the armed forces – which would stretch across all Troubles-related incidents up to the signing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
This would be coupled with some truth-recovery process, and the Committee added: “It will also be a matter for the next Government to decide after appropriate consultations, whether the statute of limitations should also cover all Troubles-related incidents.”
The government’s response to this was published on the UK Parliament website about a week ago – yet was unseen by many.
Its key paragraph was that the recommendations would now form part of the legacy consultation here – in a section “Alternative approaches to addressing the past”.
This is the new row.
On Monday on UTV’s View From Stormont and on Tuesday’s Frank Mitchell radio show on U105, I reported on this planned new element to the consultation.
Included in the television report, Professor Kieran McEvoy of the Mitchell Institute at Queen’s was very clear about what any such move would mean: “If there’s going to be a statute of limitations, that’s an amnesty. It’s an amnesty that will apply to all of the actors in the conflict – both state and non-state.”
Of course, there is no decision on that – but the very fact that it is to be included as an element in the consultation has prompted the latest row.
“Such a proposition is no part of the Stormont House Agreement and, despite being involved for the last ten months in negotiations with British officials, Sinn Fein was never informed of this intention,” the party’s leader in the north Michelle O’Neill said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We told Mrs May that this is an act of bad faith and is unacceptable.”
For more than a year now Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been signalling a planned consultation on a process to address the conflict period.
It is expected within weeks, but it is not clear whether today’s fallout will prompt a further delay.
I understand the consultation will be in three parts; what is happening now in relation to the past, what the government thinks should happen next, and this third section which will invite responses on those controversial proposals that sit outside the Stormont House Agreement.
That Agreement if implemented would put in place a new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU), and a Commission to gather information for families – the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR).
There would also be an oral history archive and reconciliation and acknowledgement elements.
The government believes this approach represents the “most effective option”, but that the other conversations on issues such as a statute of limitations cannot be ignored. This is why they will be introduced into the consultation.
Already there was a standoff over national security and what that would mean in terms of the disclosure of information to families.
Unionists also have concerns about a rewriting of history – and Irish Government cooperation with any legacy process.
As we prepare for the next consultation, so the political rows continue and deepen.
Are we any closer to a process to address the past?