STORMONT: IT’S JULY – SO WHY ARE THEY STILL TALKING? – By Brian Rowan

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One negotiator speaking with me on Sunday, gave this assessment:

“I don’t think Sinn Fein have moved away from their demand, and the DUP has not moved away from its opposition.”

He was describing positions on a stand-alone Irish Language Act; and, as these talks move into the month of July, this was his prediction: “I don’t think we are going to get a deal by the end of the week, but [will]leave some foundations for the autumn.”

There are those in this negotiation trying to create a maze in which to hide the Irish language.

So, the discussion on rights, language and identity is about a commissioner for this, a commissioner for that and a third commissioner for this and that. 

The possibility of creating a new directorate inside The Executive Office on Identity Rights and Freedom of Cultural Expression has now shifted to that third commissioner conversation. 

So, an Irish Language Commissioner, an Ulster Scots Commissioner and this third Commissioner possibly in some over-arching role.

None of this is agreed.

On the third commissioner, one source spoke of “broad sweeps rather than thought-through concepts” with “more amendments than there is text”.

This negotiation – on these issues – has not arrived at the February 2018 draft agreement: “Not even in the ballpark,” was how one source described the state-of-play.

Yet, the talks continue into the marching month of July.

Why?

It can’t be on the basis of any real progress on the difficult issues at the heart of this negotiation.

Just read this from a recent blog by Sinn Fein Chair Declan Kearney.

There is no suggestion of a breakthrough in those words and, nor would that blog have been written if these talks were advancing towards an early agreement. 

This negotiation is continuing because the governments do not have a Plan B.

Indeed, the Tories are more interested and focused on their play to be leader and the next Prime Minister.

There is talk in the background that the Northern Ireland Office wants an Executive pre-Twelfth with ministers appointed by July 8th. 

No one with whom I have spoken has suggested this is possible. “I think we’re still a long way off,” a unionist source commented.

Another source spoke of “too many imponderables” when what is needed is “certainty”.

The autumn weights of RHI, Brexit, Legacy and a new Tory/DUP arrangement could crush whatever foundations are there – if indeed such foundations exist.

Just listen to the legacy arguments – the following words from Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, a response to comments made by Gerry Adams at the funeral of former IRA Army Council member and Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna.

Nothing will be easier come the autumn and there is not any point building the same political institutions on Stormont sand. 

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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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