STORMONT TALKS: IGNORE THE DATES – READ THE DETAIL – By Brian Rowan

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The Stormont Talks move to their next level and phase on Monday; a step up from the five working groups to a leaders’ negotiation that will stretch across the month of June.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney and Secretary of State Karen Bradley will meet leadership delegations from the five main Stormont parties as the logistics of this next phase are worked through.

We have known for a while that Downing Street and Dublin were going to allow more time for these talks. 

This was confirmed on Sunday, the emphasis on a narrow window to push for an agreement. 

Late last week, UTV Political Editor Ken Reid reported on a series of target dates set out in one of the papers inside the working groups – agreement by week beginning June 24, meeting of the Assembly in week beginning July 1 and presentation of programme for government in week beginning July 8.

These are dates on paper – nothing more than that.

One negotiator described it as “the ideal scenario”.

The dates are “largely speculative” and “not based on progress in the talks”. 

I have not heard anyone speak confidently of a July agreement.

RIGHTS, LANGUAGES AND IDENTITY

A number of the key issues – critical to an overall agreement – sit under this heading;  and negotiators are reporting little or no progress.

A little over a fortnight ago, the facilitator of the working group presented a paper to assist parties in shaping their work programme. There is no suggestion that the parties had agreed to any of the content.

 

This website has obtained that paper, and the extract above is a return to old ground. The battle for a stand-alone Irish Language Act continues. 

Read also, the facilitator’s assessment on the issue of a Bill of Rights.

At a meeting of the working group on Friday, an Ulster Unionist negotiator raised concerns about the above leak of information.

Attempts thus far to soundproof the talks have not been entirely successful.

Aside from the issues of rights, languages and identity, there are other key matters to be addressed.

 I am told the working group on the petition of concern has remitted “the key reform issue” to the leaders’ level phase of the talks and, that up to this point, it “hasn’t moved in any substantive way”.

On another issue – transparency – the discussion, in the words of one source, is  “landing slightly blind” – to be revisited after publication of the RHI Report.

Then, there is the issue of legacy; that fight over the past.

At Stormont last week, Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill insisted there cannot and will not be a statute of limitations. 

That decision is not in the hands of the negotiators here. 

Will the next Tory leader have to move on legal protections for military veterans who served here? We don’t know, and that uncertainty could yet derail the shaping of the planned legacy process. 

In the Brexit battle, the Tories are in meltdown; the field of leadership hopefuls growing by the news bulletin and, beyond that, there will be another negotiation with the DUP.

Here, that will be watched closely for its detail.

Brexit, RHI, Legacy and the Westminster meltdown are outside the cordon of the Stormont Talks but, eventually, they will break in and become part of the discussion.

There is no easy or quick way back to government here. Ignore the dates on paper and watch for the detail of the next few weeks.

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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 and contributed chapters to 'Reporting the Troubles' and 'Brexit and Northern Ireland: Bordering on Confusion'.

2 Comments

  1. Gerry Mander on

    Why is it such a surprise it’s so difficult to restart Stormont when the legal framework we’re using is the very definition of insanity; institutionalising sectarianism and division rather than eliminating it… resulting in the same problems over and over yet hoping for a different result this time!

    Proroguing then abolishing the former Stormont Parliament in 1972-73 was a HUGE mistake; it opened up a political vacuum for all sides to pour their ideological preferences into, resulting in deadlock, 25 years of direct rule, and innumerable suspensions/re-negotiations/addendum agreements since the current Assembly was established in 1999… it’s been a crisis-a-day for the last twenty years…

    It would have been infinitely preferable to have increased the old NI House of Commons membership to 62 MP’s, elected on proportional representation (six per Westminster constituency), and reformed the Senate wholesale by having half of members (13) directly elected across a single NI-wide constituency to single non-renewable eight-year terms every four years.

    There should also have been new protections for the nationalist minority brought in by having a proto-petition of concern mechanism, whereby legislation passed by the Parliament that they deemed to infringe on their ‘rights’ would be passed to a commission of serving judges and given an immediate judicial review if a certain number of MP’s and Senators sign such a declaration and formally submit it through the established legal mechanism. Nationalist and opposition MP’s would also hold chairs for established new oversight and scrutiny committees in Parliament.

    A Council of Ireland should also have been established to examine and harmonise a specific set of cross-border matters like disease control, infrastructure, agriculture, and security, but have it explicitly stated the council having no executive functions and being purely a consultative body in nature.

    All of the above would be included in a new Government of Northern Ireland Act, replacing the 1920 Act, which would also recognise NI as being part of the UK until such time as the people decided otherwise (not the Parliament as in the 1949 Ireland Act), and would also bar the UK government from ever proroguing Stormont in future without approval from the latter.

    Of course, nationalists (then and now) would reject such suggestions as I have given above, but all that would have been instantly more productive and preferable to having NO provincial government and allowing English politicians to rule a part of the UK they have never, nor still don’t, understand to this day… I would trust the Irish government before I ever trust perfidious Albion, but Ireland chose to leave the Union, let’s not forget that, and you either have democracy or you have tyranny, there’s no in-between, and living under the tyranny of direct rule was no way for this place, or any place, to be governed… nor is the current situation we face ourselves with today, whereby we have NO government of any kind running the province, ad likely we won’t have one until we kowtow to the ideological demands of an extremist party like SF… an inexcusable, untenable, and intolerable situation.

    • Gerry Mander on

      Correction: I should have said 72 MP’s in a reformed Stormont Parliament not 62… maths never was my strong suit, ’nuff said.

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