The Stormont Talks move to their next level and phase on Monday; a step up from the five working groups to a leaders’ negotiation that will stretch across the month of June.
Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Secretary of State Karen Bradley will meet leadership delegations from the five main Stormont parties as the logistics of this next phase are worked through.
We have known for a while that Downing Street and Dublin were going to allow more time for these talks.
This was confirmed on Sunday, the emphasis on a narrow window to push for an agreement.
Late last week, UTV Political Editor Ken Reid reported on a series of target dates set out in one of the papers inside the working groups – agreement by week beginning June 24, meeting of the Assembly in week beginning July 1 and presentation of programme for government in week beginning July 8.
These are dates on paper – nothing more than that.
One negotiator described it as “the ideal scenario”.
The dates are “largely speculative” and “not based on progress in the talks”.
I have not heard anyone speak confidently of a July agreement.
RIGHTS, LANGUAGES AND IDENTITY
A number of the key issues – critical to an overall agreement – sit under this heading; and negotiators are reporting little or no progress.
A little over a fortnight ago, the facilitator of the working group presented a paper to assist parties in shaping their work programme. There is no suggestion that the parties had agreed to any of the content.
This website has obtained that paper, and the extract above is a return to old ground. The battle for a stand-alone Irish Language Act continues.
Read also, the facilitator’s assessment on the issue of a Bill of Rights.
At a meeting of the working group on Friday, an Ulster Unionist negotiator raised concerns about the above leak of information.
Attempts thus far to soundproof the talks have not been entirely successful.
Aside from the issues of rights, languages and identity, there are other key matters to be addressed.
I am told the working group on the petition of concern has remitted “the key reform issue” to the leaders’ level phase of the talks and, that up to this point, it “hasn’t moved in any substantive way”.
On another issue – transparency – the discussion, in the words of one source, is “landing slightly blind” – to be revisited after publication of the RHI Report.
Then, there is the issue of legacy; that fight over the past.
At Stormont last week, Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill insisted there cannot and will not be a statute of limitations.
That decision is not in the hands of the negotiators here.
Will the next Tory leader have to move on legal protections for military veterans who served here? We don’t know, and that uncertainty could yet derail the shaping of the planned legacy process.
In the Brexit battle, the Tories are in meltdown; the field of leadership hopefuls growing by the news bulletin and, beyond that, there will be another negotiation with the DUP.
Here, that will be watched closely for its detail.
Brexit, RHI, Legacy and the Westminster meltdown are outside the cordon of the Stormont Talks but, eventually, they will break in and become part of the discussion.
There is no easy or quick way back to government here. Ignore the dates on paper and watch for the detail of the next few weeks.