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In the early summer of 2019, one of the first documents to leak from the resumed Stormont talks was marked official sensitive and described as a non-paper.

It was a discussion document on Rights, Language and Identity.

A couple of sentences jumped out: “This paper deliberately focuses on the possible content of legislation, as opposed to the form of legislation that might be agreed in the context of an overall agreement. It is assumed that discussions on form would follow any broad agreement on content.”

Clearly, the plan was to get the detail agreed and to then work on the title.

This far into this latest phase of these negotiations – and up against Monday’s deadline – the battle continues.

The languages piece is expected to have some overarching title but, within it, will there be something that stands out as Irish Language Act?

It is a tug-of-titles – not yet won or lost.

“We’re not there [in terms of an overall agreement]– not enough tied down,” one insider commented on Wednesday.

This partly explains the delay in the expected publication of the governments’ text as a basis for agreement.

On Wednesday, we kicked our heels waiting for that.

Within any overarching piece, there will be a section on the Irish Language.

How will it be titled?

Will it have no name, because it is something that some will not – dare not -speak?

If so, then this is a silly game.

Anyone with an ounce of wit looking at a section on the Irish language will know exactly what it is.

Try convincing someone that your cat is your dog.

There has to be a way through this nonsense; something that looks like leadership.

On another issue, the petition of concern, the talk on Wednesday was of this being another of the unresolved issues.

We have been hearing that four parties have found common ground; this around strict criteria for use of the blocking mechanism, a possible adjustment upwards of the number of signatures required and, in disputed cases, some outside adjudication.

The DUP is not on this ground. You would think the focus in the negotiation would be to try to move one party towards the four.

“They’re still trying to do it the other way,”
a talks source commented.

The DUP wants a stand-alone POC – no adjudication from outside the Stormont system.

One source suggested the idea was floated of being able to take outside advice, but it would not be binding.

It would be like having a referee without a whistle.

There has to be something different about any new Stormont and, without proper reforms, there is the danger of losing the possibility of a 5-party Executive.

The governments should have their eyes open to that reality.

Since 2017 and the last Assembly Election, the mood and numbers have changed dramatically.

This negotiation does not represent that reality.


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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. The raison d’être of a Referee ( adjudicator) is make an independent decision on an issue which is in dispute between the Parties in order to determine that issue. If the ” decision is non binding” it cannot determine the issue and the dispute will continue and probably escalate as Parties seek alternative ways of “winning the argument”. The Westminster deadlock over Brexit is a precedent. Deadlock benefits no one. The suggestion of a non binding ” decision maker” sounds like a crass compromise and recipe for deadlock.
    The final two paragraphs of Brian’s excellent piece, Nail it. It’s time the political class were given a dose of real politik and the electorate given an opportunity to pass its own democratic judgement on the irresponsible and immature Game Playing of the past 3 years.

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