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When you cut through all the talk and hint and speculation at Stormont, you arrive at the same point.

That a deal on the political hill depends entirely on the DUP’s ability to deliver on those rights issues that have been at the heart of this negotiation.

If Arlene Foster wants to be first minister, if her party wants a restored Assembly and Executive, then it is over to them.

Can they deliver? Do they want to deliver on the stated Sinn Fein requirements for a deal?

We know it is not just about an Irish Language Act – but this issue is key as a test of respect, partnership and a new beginning; an issue made bigger by talk of crocodiles, the withdrawal of Liofa funding (later reinstated) and the ridicule of curry my yoghurt.

“A stand-alone Act has been so consistently set out as necessary, I don’t see that changing,” a talks source told me.

On Friday the News Letter ran a headline: Orange Order not a bargaining chip over Irish language.

While, just a few days ago, I got this response when I asked a senior DUP politician could his party sell an Irish Language Act.

“As a stand-alone Act, I don’t think you would even want to try.”

In recent days, there has been a sense that the NIO was trying to quicken the pace of a seemingly endless negotiation that has ignored one deadline after another.

There was also that line that the Government was hoping for good news that might enable legislation to recreate the Executive.

A DUP statement on Saturday took the wind out of that kite: “…the notion that an agreement is imminent and that the Assembly will meet next week has no basis in fact given the present state of the talks.”

The party said it remained committed “to trying to secure an agreement that can be supported by unionists as well as nationalists” and made clear it would not be a party to facilitating an outcome “that is one sided in nature and not in the best interests of Northern Ireland”.

In recent days, there has been nothing said by republicans to suggest an agreement is imminent.

On Thursday, a statement from Sinn Fein’s Northern leader Michelle O’Neill described “very real challenges” still to be addressed.

One source later said that statement was designed “to put both governments back into their boxes”.

“This [the negotiation]will go to the wire and beyond with no certainty of a positive outcome,” that source told me.

Several times, I asked and re-asked was the talking close to a deal – close to getting over the line – and several times I was told NO.

“This has to be right,” another republican commented on Saturday.

Right not just in terms of what is agreed, but the implementation process also.

Already the waiting to get this right has stretched beyond nine months.

A Saturday meeting of the Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle was also hoovered into the talks speculation; significant – not significant?

“Routine,” was how it was described to me.

Gerry Adams was speaking to the media before, not afterwards.

It did not have the appearance of some key decision moment for the Stormont talks, but perhaps more a planning meeting for the party’s Ard Fheis.

This week, the Stormont Talks were being talked up – there is no doubt about that –  but not by the two key participants.

The hints and suggestions of breakthrough came from elsewhere.

Why are these talks taking so long?

Because of what is at stake – terms and conditions set by Sinn Fein after the resignation of Martin McGuinness in January; terms and conditions many believe have set the bar at a height the DUP cannot clear.

If these talks are to succeed, then the biggest decisions are for Arlene Foster and others in her party’s leadership.

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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. I’m quite sure we’d have more joy going back on to the streets to demand our civil, human and equal rights, like we did not obtain and still have not obtained when we asked for them 50 years ago. Those clowns at Stormont won’t deliver them, that’s for certain.

  2. Mr John Lavery on

    I think we have come to a defining moment for the DUP – embrace equality or face the wrath of the electorate who are just awakening to the fact that they have allowed a faction into government who have no interest in spreading wealth beyond key party people and their hangers on.

  3. Jake Mac Siacais (@MacSiacais) on

    It may not have occurred to the DUP (perhaps it has and they have just been incapable of emotionally processing it) but what is at stake in these talks is not just a northern executive but their very real last chance at negotiating a secure place in this island’s future from a position of relative strength for those they claim to represent. Every time they have to return to the table, as affable Ken once noted, their salami will be sliced thinner.

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