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Here we are in September running out of political road.

There is a decision to be made by the British and Irish governments; a decision about how much more time they can allow for a talks process that already has exhausted patience and that has been drained of credibility.

Wrongly assessed by DUP leader Arlene Foster as a “game of chicken” in January, these months later, the political deadlock could easily become a Stormont endgame.

There is not much time and, if publicly stated positions are absolute, then there is no time.

British Secretary of State James Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, will take the pulse of the parties over the next 48 hours, another check to determine what life if any is left in this process.

What can they talk about over the next couple of days that they haven’t already discussed and re-discussed over recent months?

Are they talking just to talk; not wanting to end this Stormont process; knowing that if there is a complete collapse, then it will take a very long time to restore devolution?

Any notion of a game of bluff in January must surely have disappeared by now.

This is serious – becoming critical.

The DUP MP Sammy Wilson was tweeting this weekend as he was last weekend – this time linking to comments by colleague Gregory Campbell.



The question of an Irish Language Act is but one issue to be resolved. There are others; talked about, talked around, talked into the dead end that now characterises Stormont politics.

If Brokenshire and Coveney had a big game-changing card to play, then we would have seen it by now.

Will they give the talks yet more time?

What would that achieve?

Might there be another Assembly election?

It would change the numbers but not the issues.

Might they think of some outside chair to take charge of the talks?

Or will there be some British/Irish agreement or understanding on the next steps?

Apart from a Stormont deal, there is no good option; and there is not the slightest suggestion that such an agreement is possible – not now, not in the standoff and stalemate of past months.

There has been a political breakdown. There is no trust. No soft landing.

Elsewhere on this website, Nichola Mallon and Kellie Armstrong set out the thinking of the SDLP and Alliance; but in these negotiations there is no will and so there is no way.

There is that big decision to be made on the condition of Stormont – can it be saved or is it lost?

It should not take much longer for that question to be answered.

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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. The GFA has served one vital purpose in that it provided a period of relative stability while we came our of the rawness of the Troubles. But there is now a problem in moving seamlessly to phase two of the peace and reconciliation process. It lacks any common vision and direction. The DUP are tugging towards Westminster and Sinn Féin and tugging to Dublin. And both governments are sitting wringing their hands, spectating. The Tories are wooing the DUP to prop up their meagre majority.

    And Gregory Campbell’s No Surrender attitude to Sinn Féin demands just typifies intransigence at its worst. Sinn Féin should call the DUP’s bluff and get them back into government and THEN address the issues that are facing us. Only then in a last fling of another Stomont will their political principals be tested in a governmental framework, not just in the media on the back of press releases and interviews etc.

    The parties need once again to be tested for their fitness to be partners in government, It is a slow process. But I think the electorate are beginning to re-align their thinking on Stormont hopefully given the hype over the past year.

    It all reminds me of Gulliver’s Travels, that great Irish satire written 200 years ago by Jonathan Swift. The Lilliputians were an argumentative, headstrong lot and even fought over which end of the egg should be cracked. Thousands were victims in these petty, silly vain battles fought out between selfish kings.

    Today everyone in Northern Ireland will be increasingly suffering as there is no Executive. Both big parties may well be technically correct in their positions – who am I to judge – but they are failing to deliver governance for the people, the same people who voted them into power. That is their SOVEREIGN DUTY. I’m not so sure that the present mess is what the voters wanted… a failing health service, schools in crisis, economic crisis with Brexit looming, housing issues, etc etc.

    They need to get back into Stormont and get on with it. We don’t live in a perfect world and both I think are guilty of political idealism. They both want their cake and to eat it too. There is a lack of maturity in this type of thinking. I fully appreciate the issues around equality, probity, fairness etc etc but without an Assembly and governance we are going to end up with Direct Rule, and that is not what I believe the voters want or voted for. There needs to be a point where there is a political reality check.

    I believe only the Irish and UK governments can preserve the integrity of the political process – but there needs to be a better vision, not just a clamour for ‘equality’, ‘an Irish Language Act’ etc. We need to rethink the complete mechanics of our devolution – and that should lead a GFA II, a new accord we all have confidence in. There are huge ideological gulfs between parties here but the reality is that the size of Northern Ireland does not justify the extent to which it is so heavily politicised but that is a discussion for another day.

    This way there will not be a running sense of insecurity and feelings of crisis. Instead we will have a strategic process that will deliver effective outcomes. It is time the politicians at the heart of government in the UK and Ireland got this right or simply got off the pot.

    And I’m also in favour of a ‘People’s Parliament’ as a measure of checks and balances to the heady goings-on at Stormont.

    A number of options could emerge e.g. another election, Direct Rule, and more of the same. Even the middle ground could try and form an Executive if the big two fail to deliver.

    The media too needs to encourage creative thinking about the political process instead of the stereotypical depictions of parties endlessly at war with each other. All parties have talented people in their ranks, and the role of a good manager is to get the Assembly Executive team working effectively. The two governments are the ‘managers’. And they are failing in their duty of care to the people in Northern Ireland.

    We need leadership to move forward?

    Adopting principles such a ‘coopetition’ and creating synergies is what good governance should be including.

    But where is it going to come from I wonder ?

  2. I’ve written elsewhere here on however I’ll write again:

    The first & foremost duty of government is to ensure that ALL its citizens needs are met. In addition, the government must ensure that it is fiscally responsible and that all of its activities are carefully monitored and sustainable in the long term.

    Stormont, all parties, have utterly failed in these duties.

    A majority of politicians have forgotten that they’re public servants in office to serve the greater good of the population in general.

    As examples, we have some who use Public Office (and the PoC) to promote or validate personal prejudices & hatred. We have some who wallow in revolutionary provocation one day while lip servicing true reconciliation the next.

    Many, at Stormont, are intoxicated on title, status, salary & benefits. Some are so self righteous they denounce, absolutely & utterly, anyone not to their whited sephulcre or purist perception.

    Stormont has failed: failed utterly to deliver decent Governance for the population here.

    This phase is over.

    End their titles of power, salaries & benefits. Let them rejoin the population. Let them see what it is actually like to be an ordinary person worried about health, education & putting bread on the table.

    Perhaps, they’ll then value the unique opportunity in time they had to be gracious & ethical Public Servants.

    As for the next phase: I’d suggest a long period of joint administration by both Governments.

    Note I said Joint Administration, not Sovereignty: only we, the people of Northern Ireland, can change our Sovereignty.

    The latter a fact many would do well reflecting on because all are persuaders for their constitutional or political aspirations.

  3. Yes – agree Glenn. They have failed in their first duty i.e. to govern effectively, regardless of their own prime political agendas. Big danger now is that the wider politics in Ireland and the UK might impact on this process and prevent real progress. It is a very key transitional time. Both big parties could shoot their bolt if they keep on prevaricating over Stormont and become historically redundant. Stormont belongs to all the people here, not the privileged few in power. One fine day at the polls does not make a summer. We need real political action from the two governments otherwise we will see paramilitarism once again raise its head. And the security bill will be more the the political cure!!

  4. Stormont is an off set to the Peace Process.

    When the heavy lifting was done to end violence, secure the release of combatants, establish the foundations for a shared future based on parity of esteem some who now cling to their title, salary & benefits in Stormont weren’t even at the table, had ran away or where protesting / threatening negotiators.

    If this failed cycle concludes (and I now believe it should) the peace process will go on.

    It’s quite simple: embrace the honourable ratified compromise that was the Belfast Agreement and / or the later terms of St. Andrews in full.

    Permit rights valued & respected in England, Scotland, Wales & Republic of Ireland to be introduced here.

    Then form a Government that will actually work for the population … OR … refuse to.

    The latter will be painful but the peace process is owned by the People & it will prevail: of that I am certain.

    The slow process of change here with time will continue. The next generations will assure it OR some can seize this limited opportunity in their time, now, and complete the correct ethical decisions to deliver for ALL in this tiny place.

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