FROM MOTHER’S DAY to HALLOWEEN – the elastic keeps stretching – By Brian Rowan 

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Think back to that Sunday in ‪March – the 26th, Mother’s Day – and an early evening news conference at Stormont Castle.

Back then, the talks were on the eve of a deadline, waiting to see if Sinn Fein would nominate for Executive Office.

NO was the answer delivered by Michelle O’Neill. This phase of negotiations had “run its course”.

Except the talks have been running ever since.

Well, not quite running or even jogging. More a slow step, some going through the motions with the passing of one deadline and then another.

A ‪4 o’clock deadline in early July when all was not well.

A Friday the 13th deadline. Next, it is Halloween.

Patience, credibility, belief, tolerance, deadlines – all these things being stretched like elastic, but not yet to breaking point.

“Every time you ask  it always seems further away,” a senior DUP politician said on Sunday when asked about the possibility of a deal or agreement.

Except for a period of some hope or optimism a week or so ago.

“I think they [Sinn Fein] had started to talk about an all-encompassing bill,” he continued.

“That’s where they got to and then moved off,” he said – meaning talking about something wider than a stand-alone Irish Language Act.

This has also been suggested from outside the DUP.

Suggested after a message sent to me on Wednesday October 11th.

“I hear a deal is probable by next weekend,” it read – meaning this past weekend.

I asked the sender was he having a laugh?

“No,” was his response.

He had been speaking to someone at the NIO and it seemed there had been “a bit of movement from the Shinners – one Act with Irish having precedence”.



I tested and re-tested that information and got nowhere.

On Thursday October 12th there was a statement from Michelle O’Neill that there were “very real challenges” still to be addressed.

Then, on Friday the 13th, a republican told me that a stand-alone Act had been “consistently set out as a necessity”. He asked, if you could sign off the content of an Act as satisfactory, why then would you call it something else?

In other words, you wouldn’t.

Then, on October 18th, Sinn Fein restated that “nothing short of [a stand-alone Act]” will do.

So, on this issue, that struggle between a self-standing Act versus some composite/hybrid model continues.

The talking up has become a talking down.

“The outlook for an imminent resolution is not positive,” this the most recent assessment from British Secretary of State James Brokenshire.



Within the broad unionist community there is no mood – no cover – for an Irish Language Act.

Nor is there any indication that Sinn Fein intends to lower the bar.

“Sinn Fein will not be bounced into a deal which fails to address the issues set out by Martin McGuinness when he resigned as deputy first minister in January,” the party’s director of communications Ciaran Quinn wrote in An Phoblacht at the weekend.

It is not reading like a build-up to a Halloween deal.

Whatever the reason/purpose behind those more positive briefings a week or so ago, they came to nothing and, here we are, in the week of another deadline.

If no agreement, will the talks be allowed to continue along some endless path?

The governments must see that this process is running out of credibility.

London and Dublin need a plan.


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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 Irish language community will never forgive Sinn Féin if they renege on this. We have been arsed about by them all -including soccer-head Shinners – for generations. NO MORE!
    Caoimhín Ó Seanáin

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