STORMONT – “it’s like a f***ing soap opera…” – By Brian Rowan 

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There was a wedding photographer at work in the grounds of Stormont on Friday – in this place of politics now waiting for the autumn not knowing whether the story then will be a wake or a resurrection.

Several phases of negotiations have delivered nothing; no change in the standoff that reads back to the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness in January with a warning then that there would be no return to the status quo.

Several days ago, a senior DUP politician accused Sinn Fein of being “100% pig headed” and over the weekend a talks insider offered a blunt description of this seemingly endless negotiation at the Castle: “It’s like a f***ing soap opera,” he said.

What, if anything, will change between now and September?

Watching these past weeks and months has been to endure a repeat script on the same stage. If it was Coronation Street or EastEnders we would have switched off long before now.

This Stormont soap opera is in desperate need of new lines, a new writer, a new character; a new something – a shake-up or a shutdown.

September cannot be a repeat of past months.

In trying to avoid all-out direct rule, Secretary of State James Brokenshire has stretched the credibility of these talks to breaking point.

None of us is seeing a serious engagement; a near-agreement, the ingredients and signs of breakthrough.

The making of a deal is not just what you would see at the Castle, but what you would see and hear elsewhere if the DUP and Sinn Fein were moving.

No one detects that either party is preparing that ground.

No selling of an Irish Language Act, no retreat from that position.

No sense of a move to reform the petition of concern to remove the veto on issues such as marriage equality.

No suggestion of a big breakthrough on the legacy question.

On the latter, the negotiation has ended. There is to be a consultation.

Nationalists and republicans have concerns about national security, funding for inquests and the overall 5-year funding commitment for the proposed Historical Investigations Unit, Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, archive and reconciliation process.

“Five years won’t do it,” one negotiator commented.

Unionist concerns are about Irish disclosure, definition of a victim, the investigation of police officers and soldiers and the re-writing of history.

The political negotiation has not achieved a consensus and nor will a public consultation.

“The danger is the legislative process not the consultative process,” one source commented.

This a fear about what could be painted into or removed from the frame.

A statute of limitations?

Add to this talking mess, the tug-of-war that relates to Brexit versus Remain or Union versus Unity.

Are these many gaps bridgeable?

Stormont on Friday had that last day at school feel about it; an emptiness, a switching off and the beginning of that waiting for September.

Some are not ruling out an autumn Assembly election; some are preparing for that possibility. Any such election will change numbers, not the issues.

Beyond September, this cannot continue.

A call will have to be made. Can this be fixed, or is it just too broken?

Stormont is meant to deliver real politics, real change – not this monotonous, tired, old soap opera.


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About Author

Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist/author. A former BBC correspondent in Belfast, four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards. He is the author of several books on the peace process. His latest book (published by Merrion Press) POLITICAL PURGATORY – the battle to save Stormont and the play for a New Ireland is now available at


  1. Nothing stays the same for ever.
    So we either move forward or we move backward.
    Moving backward is not an option. Look at the middle east.
    The only way forward is through compromise and mutual respect. That requires making generous gestures, not conditioned on a quid pro quo, and seeing the good in those on the other side. A mindset of positivity rather than negativity.
    Not impossible.

    • Belfast has and will never see the carnage of the Middle East
      We just like to bicker, waste time and money on stupid stuff

  2. Yes. It really is a job for the media now to raise the public consciousness in a meaningful and positive manner so that the great unwashed actually understand what is going on in bite sized pieces. But can the media deliver or will it continue to be fragmented, myopic and riven with self-interests?

    The media could with a positive accord move this forward and it needs to consider this move. But I dare say it would not bite the hand that feeds it. So that leaves the community ie. the people, the voters. A peoples’ parliament could help to nudge things on a bit but that would be nothing compared to the real deal of what Stormont should be delivering.

    So where are we ideologically with the two big parties? Neither will give way. They are in fact determining each others reason for existence in a pig-headed way so to speak. Their electoral bases are so finely tuned now that they probably can’t grow much further so it will be a question of maintaining their political status quo and sniping over the summer months reminding us that they haven’t gone away you know.

    I was listening to Lord Hain, former NI Sec of State, last night on TV and he suggested that both governments have fluffed it and should face up to their responsibilities to the GFA. But Theresa May has sold her soul to Mephistopheles and therein lies an unsolvable problem… another one!

    How is this £1billion going to be divided out across the North. Will things be equality proofed? Will it be part of a strategic plan or will it just be another historic mess to supecede the RHI debacle?

    I have said it before… the governments need to change the electoral system and allow diversity of political views which would act as checks and balances to extreme ideological behaviour as exists in our political system. This could be done with a PR system. The smaller parties and middle ground could alter the political landscape and Bob’s yer uncle. Peace, stability and maybe some reconciliation.

    Nick H is right in his comment! ‘Nothing stays the same forever.’ If Ciaran McClean of the Greens succeeds in overturning the legitimacy of the relationship between the DUP and Tories then that will be a historic moment for the small parties and just proves the point, that they are not ineffectual. But Sammy Wilson of the DUP wrote his off in the Newsletter today, but let’s wait and see what happens.

    The system needs a few tweeks. Big ones maybe, but meaningful, ones that will allow political context to flourish in the North.

    This nonsense cannot got on. We don’t all live in ivory towers. Some of us live in humble abodes and lead humble lives and the politicians often forget this and do nee dot be reminded from time to time.

    I’m sure things will change eventually … for the better? Let’s wait an see.

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