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There is an awful lot of detail for such a misunderstanding to have occurred.

A “draft agreement” in Sinn Fein’s words including separate Irish Language, Ulster Scots and Respecting Language and Diversity Acts.

Yet, in an interview with Sky News on Thursday, the DUP leader offers a completely different version of events.



And the DUP’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds added “Sinn Féin propaganda machine in full flow.”

Of course, draft agreements are not always converted into deals, and most definitely not on this occasion.

We have yet another Stormont Disagreement – a bigger mess and, one wonders, what worth there would be in yet another DUP-Sinn Fein negotiation.

Who would believe it?

Who would you want and need in the room next time?

What would be different?

The type of convoluted wordplay that featured in this and previous negotiations needs to be erased from the script.

We have had two decades of ambiguity; what I described on Wednesday as the political and legislative and presentational gymnastics that only serve as a trip wire.

Talking needs clarity, certainty – something that is convincing. Perhaps the missing ingredients are courage and leadership.

If the DUP cannot sell what was being worked on this time, what chance of a different result the next time?

Even in the better atmosphere of last week, no one was telling me that a deal was over the line.

Remember the quote from a talks insider that: “The mice could still get at it.”

What is Sinn Fein saying was in the “draft agreement”?

  • the three acts outlined above.
  • an agreement between them and the British Government on a consultation on a legacy process structure and funding for inquests.
  • no meeting of minds on marriage equality. So, on this issue, a Private Members Bill. It was acknowledged that no party alone can table a Petition of Concern.
  • a review of the Petition of Concern.
  • a committee to look at the Bill of Rights.
  • Sinn Fein accepted DUP proposals on sustainability of the institutions (it is understood these include more time to resolve differences in the event of a resignation at the top of the Executive).

On much of the above, there is no certainty in relation to outcome.

“No return to the status quo?” one Stormont source asked – meaning little had been achieved in a marathon negotiation.

“Threadbare” was his assessment of the emerging detail.

In the here and now, the governments – British and Irish – must decide next steps.

Direct Rule, a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference or an election among the options.

Michelle O’Neill described the collapse of this phase of the talks as a crash landing.

It will take some time to assess the political damage; time that Stormont doesn’t have.

On top of 13 months of crisis, this is another mess.

We are back to the tug-of-war and the tug-of-words.

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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

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