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What a difference a day makes.

On Tuesday, Stormont was in the spotlight; the beginning of new negotiations attracting attention from the main news outlets interested in what the governments and the other parties to these talks had to say about this latest salvage operation on the political hill. 

It’s an initiative shaped by the governments; intended to be short and with the aim of achieving rapid progress.

By the end of this month Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will make an assessment.

Before then, the party leaders will meet each week, and five working groups have been set specific tasks.

This was the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings on Wednesday afternoon – none of the attention and activity and busy atmosphere of the previous day.

These talks have now moved under the radar.

For the governments, Tuesday was a presentation on the shape of this process; 

Twenty four hours later, the work focus was on detail and the beginning of an initiative that will attempt to deliver product and outcomes.

The first of the working groups tasked with reaching agreement on a programme for government met at Stormont Castle in the room where the Executive met before the collapse of the institutions.

Head of the Civil Service David Sterling was in the chair.

Each of the five main parties was represented. 

One of those present described the meeting as “a read in – setting the scene”.

It was also about the work schedule for the period ahead. There will be a budget briefing next week. There was comment also on the importance of the confidentiality of the talks; this an attempt to keep this negotiation soundproof, but politics without leaks is like Easter without an egg.

There are five working groups. Two more – including on the reform of the petition of concern – will meet on Thursday, then, two more on Friday, including on rights, language and identity issues. 

These are the issues on the talks table. There are also unopened containers – Brexit, RHI and legacy, all of which will eventually play into this negotiation.

After almost two and a half years without government, this salvage operation will not be easy.

The governments, in holding a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference on Wednesday, are creating an atmosphere of urgency.

There is a determination not to allow this to become another of those never-ending processes of talking shop politics with elastic deadlines and no endpoint.

Can they get this done?

After this long standoff, will there be – can there be – government without an Irish Language Act, without marriage equality and without the implementation of a legacy process that finally takes the past out of policing?

These are hurdles that will have to be jumped and, if they cannot be cleared, then it is decision time for the governments.

Have they a Plan B? Is this phase of talks as urgent as is being suggested?

Or after this latest last chance for Stormont, will there be yet another last chance?

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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. Gerry Mander on

    A very easy way to fix the problem is simply bring back majority rule; no-one party or political designation dominates the legislature anymore, and a VOLUNTARY cross-community coalition would be needed to form an Executive. And it would stop any further antics from the Shinners when they don’t get what they want…

    It would restore both proper democracy to Norn Iron and credibility to the devolved government in the eyes of the public.

    A common sense approach… which is exactly why it won’t happen, alas…

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