The long last stretch of negotiating track?

The Economist has some useful thoughts on what is likely to be the final stage of this vast game of political chicken. And Ian Paisley is taking his bicycle!

Britain and Ireland had hoped that the man most likely to lead a revived Northern Ireland administration would be tempted into power-sharing by the prospect of the top job. But Mr Paisley, who turns 80 in April, is not in a hurry. To friends he has likened his role in these talks to a leisurely turn on a bicycle: he is most intent on avoiding a speed from which he cannot turn around. The governments’ best bet may be that the IMC, having shown itself to be no pussycat, will persuade his party with a better account of the IRA when it next reports in April.

The other task is to convince Sinn Fein to join in policing. On February 16th, the British government will introduce legislation permitting the devolution of policing and judicial powers. A necessary but not sufficient condition for Sinn Fein (they will want to see how the powers are implemented before committing themselves), it will nonetheless give Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein’s president, proof to show his followers that things are moving.

In the end, the sheer weight of time may wear down opponents. Nearly 12 years have passed since the IRA first declared a ceasefire. Elections to the assembly are scheduled for 2007. Mr Hain says he does not intend to ask voters to turn out and elect representatives to a body that does not meet. He also says it is increasingly hard to justify paying the assembly members that already exist.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty