Mood music good for SF/DUP courtship…

IT wasn’t so long ago that Ian Paisley was calling for the disbandment of Sinn Fein, saying that the party should “have no part nor be in any negotiations”. Contrast that with his statement yesterday, and you’ll see how far the DUP has belatedly come – now they are prepared to accept the IRA continuing in the form of an ‘old boys’ association’. Wasn’t it Albert Reynolds who used that phrase first, which was later adopted by David Trimble? Anyway, how times change

For those who watch events closely, this would seem as clear an indication as any that a deal of some description is on the cards.

The relatively upbeat assessment by the DUP of the British and Irish Governments’ joint paper, the much-changed language of the DUP, the flexibility of Sinn Fein on Executive formation, the ‘regret’ over the Birmingham bombs (such statements having come before big moves in the past), the statement by Peter Robinson about how the DUP proposals were not outside the fundamental principles of the Agreement, the refusal by the DUP to rule out greater North South co-operation on matters of mutual benefit, the confidence SF have to allow Bairbre de Brun to resign her Assembly seat to concentrate on Europe, the offer of clergymen viewing decommissioned weapons, the friendly DUP visit to Dublin, the common cause of the two parties on negotiating a peace dividend and opposing water charges – are all meaningless on their own.

But added together, and with a few more signals besides, such as the DUP and SF briefing their executives this week and the flurry of high-level activity during today’s anniversary of the last Assembly election, they seem to strongly indicate movement towards a deal that is about to be made.

Much baggage has had to be dropped on this rather frustrating and often tedious journey.

Will we get the Big Deal though, or an interim measure towards full restoration of the institutions? My guess is that we are still talking March/April at the earliest before a full Assembly will meet (the governments might be anticipating something after the next IMC report, but before the May election – although the DUP might want to stall until afterwards for electoral reasons) and I still think there will be certain issues left unresolved regardless…

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