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In the Stormont Talks structure that often-described window of opportunity has already been stretched – from something quite narrow into some wider construct.

Now, in mid-June, it is getting ever closer to decision time; what to do with these talks in the here and now?

One negotiator said something that pretty much everyone else is thinking – that the working groups, operating under various headings, “have run their course”.

The above has been one of the work headings; the challenge to find a way that would better protect any new Executive and Assembly from early collapse in the future.

This conversation – like many others – is a work in progress, including on the issue of more time to resolve differences in the event of political tensions, disagreements or a resignation.

The document excerpt above sets out some thinking for a new Party Leaders Forum as some early-warning mechanism to try to address any such future problems.

This has been part of the talking inside one of five working groups. There have been working papers and discussion points, but nothing yet that starts to look like the shaping of an agreement text.

Writing in Saturday’s Irish News, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill outlined what those of us watching and trying to read this negotiation already knew; that those working groups “haven’t addressed the core rights issues at the heart of the current impasse”. 

In that platform article, there was a call for the governments to lay out their plan – and a comment that it is time for serious negotiations to start.

This takes us into that frame of decision time.

These latest talks are a governments’ initiative.

They want a deal now – in this month, and there is a view that if it is not done now, then it will only become more difficult when they return to this; more difficult because the RHI Report and a Brexit decision will be closer.

Also decisions will have to be made on legacy and, then, there is all the uncertainty associated with a Tory leadership change and another Conservative Party/DUP negotiation in relation to that.

Would Boris Johnson as Prime Minister make things easier?

Do the governments have a plan for these talks in the here and now and, if not, what is Plan B?

While the aim of this negotiation is to achieve a five-party agreement and Executive, a two-party deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein is the starting point.

There was some talk in recent days of leaving them some space to talk with each other; talk also of working through what is usually the summer recess.

No one is speaking with any confidence of an agreement now.

Another summary document will be produced within the talks soon; but, on the big issues that caused this standoff, Michelle O’Neill says this negotiation has been  “tinkering around the edges”.

None of that will get the job done.

There are few options open to the governments.

Have they a document or a plan to play into these talks?

Can they resume the negotiations after the Twelfth?

Might they conclude the parties can’t do this?

There are not many chances left for Stormont.

What would be the point of another negotiation if this one doesn’t deliver?

That pantomime on the political hill cannot continue.

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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'.

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