With the General Election now just days away, so the talk of new Stormont negotiations gets louder; that talk now more serious – perhaps even more optimistic.
There are hints, that this time, they might be able to get things done – that this has gone on too long.
“I think there will be a serious run at it,” one source commented – meaning a serious effort to lift the political institutions out of their near three-year sleep.
By Monday December 16, the latest negotiations could well have begun; but let’s not get carried away.
Much will depend on how the land lies beyond the counting of Thursday’s votes; to what the wider UK total and the numbers here will add up in terms of new possibilities and potential.
Will there be a London government that can stand on its own two feet without the props and the plays of confidence and supply?
RUSTING IN THE RAIN OF THREE WINTERS
In those circumstances, if the voting and the counting allow for that situation, then there is a view that the DUP will come “home” – refocus on Stormont and this latest effort to rework and reboot an Assembly and Executive that have wasted and rusted in the rain of three winters.
Any old Stormont won’t do; not after this long wait.
If it returns under pressure – without the necessary thought and reforms – then fails again, it could be the last Stormont.
So, this cannot – should not – be a rush through a door that conveniently forgets or ignores RHI and the changes demanded from that debacle.
Nor should there be some half-baked or half-hearted agreements on legacy, language and those other matters that in January 2017 were part of the fall of Stormont.
A restored Executive in itself is not the magic wand that will fix everything; the UK Government, in particular, needs to accept its part in the making of the political mess of the past three years – and its part also in creating the headlines that are the health crisis in the here-and-now.
Getting Northern Ireland working or moving again is something much easier said than done; something much bigger than having an Executive and an Assembly.
People have had their fill of the ‘bolloxology’ of the past three years, and many know this renewed focus on Stormont is because the Westminster and Brexit bubbles have burst.
Before the next Stormont talks get “serious”, there is the business of the election to be completed.
What will the results give us at Westminster?
What will happen here?
Then, what happens next?
On Thursday, the voting here is about so much more than 18 constituencies and the scores on the doors come Friday the 13th.
It is about Brexit and the next steps.
It is about Stormont and the next steps.
It is about the question of Union versus Unity.
Watch and you will now see some running a mile from the Brexit conversation and running again on Stormont ground. You can nearly sense their desperation to get back.
So, what will be the mood when the next negotiations begin?
That depends on Friday’s results and on the winners and losers in these election battles, including in Foyle, Fermanagh South Tyrone, North, South and East Belfast perhaps even in North Down.
For some, Friday the 13th could be a nightmare.
This election is not a foregone conclusion; not some going through the motions.
So, we hear talk of battles, tactical voting, of things going to the wire and being too close to call; that things are tight and that in some places there is “a different vibe”.
We will not know what all of that means until the counting is done, but the DUP and Sinn Fein know the battles in which they are.
The SDLP is hoping to fight back after losing its three seats in 2017, and we don’t yet know how the Alliance surge in the European and Council elections of May will play into Thursday of this week.
Some are reducing the planned new Stormont talks to a single issue – an Irish Language Act.
This is too narrow a focus.
There will be a financial ask. You can’t fix health and education without money.
There is the shaping and presentation of any languages package – what it will include and will there be a stand alone Irish Language Act?
Then, there are the issues of the petition of concern and what to do with legacy.
On the latter, the proposals of the Stormont House Agreement of 2014, including a new Historical Investigations Unit, are now five years old and more accurately described as a disagreement.
How also do you ensure that any new political institutions are strong enough, credible enough – especially after RHI – to stand tall and not fall again at the point of the next crisis?
If this negotiation is really about a new start and a different and better place for politics, then those involved in these talks should take their time.
If this next negotiation fails or if the institutions fall again, then there won’t be a Stormont at the centenary of Northern Ireland.