Backtracking not Fake News – By Brian Rowan

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There is something that just doesn’t add up in the explanation of the decision of the Northern Ireland Office to abandon Wednesday’s planned announcement on legacy next steps.

Over the past number of days, the scene had been set; people told to be prepared for an announcement by the Secretary of State Karen Bradley and simultaneous publication of the analysis of the legacy consultation. 

None of this is “fake news”. Just ask the parties and others who were put on standby for the planned statement.

The story now is that there are to be yet more talks with the parties and, there will be no next-steps announcement until they happen. 

When will that be? After Wednesday’s fiasco, who knows?

Is it a coincidence that the planned announcement was pulled as the story of protections for soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan played out? Protections that won’t apply here.

In setting out the next steps in the legacy process here, the Secretary of State’s announcement would have highlighted that difference; to quote my colleague Eamonn Mallie, –  another border between London and Northern Ireland. 

Part of the plan here is for historical investigations that will look not just at the IRA and loyalists, but the police, military and intelligence.

There are those still arguing for the same protections covering Iraq and Afghanistan to be applied in Northern Ireland – a battle that has not yet been won or lost. 

NEW TALKS

Here, there is also the issue of the new talks to take into consideration.

So far, the mood has been good. 

Indeed, one politician with whom I chatted at Stormont on Tuesday told me his assessment of a possible deal had shifted from definitely not to probably not.

In the canteen at Parliament Buildings, humour is a necessary ingredient to lift the mood.

When I told a caller on Tuesday that I was in the Stormont basement, he asked me “ are you taking the pulse of the corpse?” 

To waken the politics of this place out of its coma is the task of these talks; but this negotiation has yet to move to its problem-solving phase.

Politics needs something much more than a few repairs. It needs a rebuild.

Would it have been ready on Wednesday for the legacy container to be emptied; all of the controversy attaching to the past that has become such a part of the present?

Only, when this eventually happens and, when we get to decision time on a number of other issues, will this negotiation really be tested.

The church leaders were at Stormont House on Tuesday to offer their encouragement. So, also, was Senator George Mitchell who, more than two decades ago, steered the political negotiations of that time to the point of the Good Friday Agreement.

These talks are in their five working groups, and this week’s schedule is as follows.

Wednesday – reform of the petition of concern;

Thursday – transparency, accountability and the operation of the Executive, and also on Thursday –  programme for government;

Friday – rights, language and identity issues, and also on Friday – improving the sustainability, stability and operation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement institutions.

If this negotiation is to be as short and sharp as has been suggested, then sooner rather than later, other difficult questions, including on legacy, are going to have to be addressed – not avoided.

Can these talks cope with that?

The negotiation has not yet been presented with that challenge, but what should be absolutely clear is this; 

There is no point in yet another half-baked, half-hearted, half-deal on the political hill – a Stormont simply for the sake of it.

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About Author

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster. Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist-of-the-Year awards. He was BBC security editor in Belfast and now contributes regularly to the Belfast Telegraph and UTV. Rowan has reported on the major pre-ceasefire and then peace process events. He is the author of four books.

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