The aim of the game

According to the Irish Times’ Gerry Moriarty’s ‘dependable sources’ “The British and Irish governments want to have the Northern Executive and Assembly back in operation by next January.”As Gerry Moriarty opines “Ambitious or what? Allowing for the New Year, the return to school and getting back into shape after the Christmas festivities, their January deadline could be towards the middle or latter end of that month.

That’s not bad: it gives the parties four months to accept, acquiesce to, or grudgingly tolerate any agreement – or makings of an agreement – that might emerge from this medieval moated castle.”

Although the official line remains “yes a deal can be done” there are still many obstacles to be cleared from the path to that objective. Apart from the paramilitary question, “Some of the big issues in terms of the mechanics of the Belfast Agreement are the DUP’s wish to separate the unified functions of the First and Deputy First Minister, ministerial accountability and voting arrangements in the Assembly.”

Moriarty suggests the SDLP leader Mark Durkan’s reference last week to “a phased, phrased deal” could be the most optimistic outcome the two governments can hope for, but also warns that “The DUP and Sinn Féin can live with failure, knowing their constituencies won’t abandon them, which is one of the problems of this process: plenty of carrot but where’s the stick.”

On the fundamental question that is perplexing all political commentators “Can a deal be done?”, Gerry Moriarty is more open than most, “The honest answer is that nobody really knows – and that includes the principal players. Certainly based on experience it’s probably best to tend towards pessimism.”