This website has obtained some of the latest discussion documents from inside the Talks – papers on key issues that will make or break this latest effort to put a broken Stormont back together again.
They cover rights, language and identity and the future sustainability of the political institutions if they are restored.
A number of talks insiders believe if demands continue for a stand alone Irish Language Act, then this negotiation will flounder.
The documents obtained by this website run to some dozens of pages and have “non-paper” status – meaning they contain discussion points.
A non-paper can also include a proposal that is circulated for comment before or during negotiations.
The latest documents, were shared with parties as the talks moved to a more intense phase in recent days.
They are heavily stamped – identifying each party’s copy. Some are marked, official sensitive.
This is another attempt to soundproof the negotiation and stop leaks.
The papers are prepared by facilitators within the various strands of these talks and under the various work headings.
It is on Rights, Language and Identity, that the battle over an Irish language Act continues.
A paragraph in one of the papers reads: “Section Two, languages, outlines the likely legislative provisions that would be made, in the context of an overall agreement, to protect and promote Irish language and Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture. This paper deliberately focuses on the possible content of legislation, as opposed to the form of legislation that might be agreed in the context of an overall agreement. It is assumed that discussions on form would follow any broad agreement on content.”
In the coming days, this website will elucidate on the above configuration of content over form.
The discussion paper, prepared to assist the parties in their work, travels over familiar ground, including:
– Irish Language and Ulster Scots Commissioners;
– the possibility of annual written reports to the Assembly;
– official recognition of the status of Irish language in Northern Ireland;
– official recognition of the status of Ulster Scots in Northern Ireland;
– best practice standards;
– a possible central translation hub to provide language translation services for the Executive departments and other bodies.
All of this is in the frame of a discussion paper – not an agreed text.
BILL OF RIGHTS
The discussion paper on the above takes us no further than the draft agreement paper of February 2018; an ad-hoc Assembly committee assisted in its work by a small number of experts and with the terms of reference of the committee to be agreed within a few weeks of the restoration of devolution.
SAME SEX MARRIAGE
Again, in a read back to the February 2018 draft agreement (obtained by my colleague Eamonn Mallie and which can be read elsewhere on this website), this issue would be considered in the Assembly in a Private Members Bill.
SUSTAINABILITY OF INSTITUTIONS
On this, the papers include a Draft Agreement text – some eight paragraphs, some of them in brackets (meaning not agreed), including the issues of a Brexit sub-committee, increased civic engagement and the period of time to resolve matters in the event of a resignation at the top of the Executive – this stretching to some months.
There is also a suggested Party Leaders Forum – as a safe space to discuss ongoing issues and give early warning on matters that might cause future political tension/disagreements.
Again to emphasise this point, the content of the various papers is for discussion and does not indicate the consent or agreement of the parties.
After two-plus years of standoff, these talks are still in an early stage.
The governments may want to push the pace at this time, but I have not heard anyone suggest a deal is possible within this month.
Nor is anyone suggesting it will be any easier after the summer – when the RHI Report, Brexit and Legacy will break into this negotiation.
There is a suggestion from one insider that in the event of an agreement the time span or mandate of this current Assembly could be extended – possibly for one year.
The papers seen by this website give us an indication of the discussions – they do not tell us we are close to agreement.
As the talking continues, we will keep watching that Stormont space.