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Late last Thursday night we felt the bite of the winter cold on that Stormont hill as we waited for Julian Smith and Simon Coveney and the details of their text, which would be the making of a new agreement.

The parties – some of them still reading the document at the moment of that news conference – were about to be bounced; if indeed such a term is apt after three years of waiting.

About an hour earlier, the strongest hint of a breakthrough came from the words of a delegation spanning business, farming, the Unions, education and community and voluntary sectors.

They had just met with the five parties and had clearly heard enough to send out a signal.

In a tweet at around 8.30pm, I asked was there light in the Stormont tunnel.

It was dark outside, but something was flickering.

We know and have watched the story of what next.

Secretary of State Julian Smith and Tanaiste Simon Coveney produced several dozen pages of text under the heading – New Decade – New Approach.

In the 48-hours or thereabouts that followed, one-by-one the Stormont parties came to accept it as a basis for a return to government.

Smith and Coveney made this work; they had to because the parties could not.

In the days leading to their news conference, we had begun to hear whispers of ‘more time’ – two words to chill the heart in the context of the negotiations of this place.

The last thing the process needed was more time. The talk was from within some of the parties – not the NIO.

Had that been allowed, then the months-old – years-old – arguments over fine detail and fixed positions would have continued.

Instead, we are now listening to the arguments and the problems of government; money matters and how you make it stretch and work.

Our politicians are now in the harder place of government. It is a better place; for this reason – that this time, for all the difficulties and challenges, they have to make this work.

There will not – should not – be another chance if this one fails.

Boris has been and gone. We learned nothing from his visit.

Simon Coveney now turns his attention to an election, and Julian Smith is holding the fort and holding the line.

“Let’s get on with it,” he tweeted on Wednesday in response to criticism of the UK government financial package, reminding parties it was the biggest ever in any NI talks settlement.

Without him in the NIO in recent months, this would not have worked.

They need him here as this thing called government beds in.

It has been some week in the politics of this place.

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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 Comment

  1. Government totally right about financial package-We are already overfunded compared to other regions of the UK-In a United Ireland the people of the 26 counties would not be over funding us
    I would go further and say that a good part of our financial ,political and social mess is that we have too much public funding-Time to stop this,Certain hospitals,schools will have to be amalgamated /closed-no matter what the local reaction is.Certain cultural hobby horses will have to be curtailed/abandoned,This situation would not exist anywhere else in UK or in the Irish Republic.If our so called politicians do not do this-Close Stormont and let Direct Rule Ministers implement cost cutting measures and reform of Public Services
    Seriously folks-5 health boards-should be reduced to 1
    We need to get real or we all sink in to the abyss
    People in rest of UK do not care
    People in the Republic will not vote to be united to take on a financial millstone
    That is where we are
    What does anyone else think?

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