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Inside the Stormont negotiations on Tuesday they were talking again about the legacy question.

Across two sessions, representatives of the five largest political parties discussed an issue that has been talked out and talked through across numerous consultations and negotiations.

In the afternoon British Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan joined the conversation.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was in the room, Emma Little Pengelly, Gerry Kelly, Sean Murray, Colin McGrath of the SDLP, who in one meeting was joined by John Dallat and in the other by Dolores Kelly. David Ford and Stephen Farry were the Alliance representatives, while former soldiers Tom Elliott and Doug Beattie are the Ulster Unionist negotiators in these legacy talks.

We know from a talks paper that the two governments are steering this issue towards public consultation; Brokenshire more enthusiastically than Flanagan was the observation of the one of the negotiators in the room.

Brokenshire is said to have been keen to stress that consultation does not equal a fait accompli.

“What is there to consult about?” a source from outside the talks asked when this path of the governments became clear.

How much longer can these parties and these governments talk about something that they have been talking about since the Eames/Bradley process began a decade ago?

Is public consultation an admission of defeat dressed up as something else?

Will this approach settle the arguments over national security – described by some as a smothering blanket to bury information and truth?

The IRA and loyalist organisations will of course have similar smothering blankets, although there is less talk about this.

At Stormont, on Wednesday morning, the same five parties and the two governments will return to their legacy discussion.

At some point – the Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson – is to be asked to advise “on how best a public phase can be conducted”?

The talk from inside the talks is that the parties want to be clearer about the detail of any consultation before that next step is taken.

Will the issue of funding for legacy inquests be settled before then?

A consultation may lift this issue out of the political negotiations for now, but will it really make things better or clearer?

What might the response be from the loyalist community and organisations, who have no place at the talks table?

What if a consultation produces a significant argument for the drawing of some line?

Has all of this been thought through, or is it a means of kicking an unanswerable and impossible question yet further down the road?

Will the talking over the next number of days answer any of these questions?

Are we any closer to an agreed process on the past?

One thing there seems to be agreement on is that the five years suggested for any such process will not be long enough.



About Author

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster. Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist-of-the-Year awards. He was BBC security editor in Belfast and now contributes regularly to the Belfast Telegraph and UTV. Rowan has reported on the major pre-ceasefire and then peace process events. He is the author of four books.

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