Agreement to be changed…

BEFORE the October talks begin, the Agreement will have been re-written, according to the News Letter. The paper says it “has learned that a Bill, making significant amendments to aspects of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (which enshrined the original peace deal in law), is being drafted. It will make changes to the Agreement with regard to the running of the Executive and Assembly, and the work of Stormont ministers on North-South bodies.”The article adds: ” The Government hopes to put it before Parliament in the autumn. The amendments are set to satisfy a large number of DUP demands and encompass proposals made in the Comprehensive Agreement of 2004.”

The News Letter says key elements include:

* making ministers more accountable to fellow ministers in the Executive, to the Assembly and to a new ministerial code of conduct;

* ensuring that ministers attending North-South meetings or working on cross-Border issues report back to the Executive.

I could be wrong, but this sounds like the pret-a-porter political deal more or less agreed at Leeds Castle. Remember, Leeds went for an ‘all or nothing’ deal, which fell down on decommissioning, although the political arrangements for the Executive and Assembly were apparently largely acceptable to the DUP and Sinn Fein, who say the only obstacle is the DUP’s refusal to sit on the Executive with them (is the quid pro quo Sinn Fein sitting on the Policing Board?) While gaps remained, both parties showed a degree of flexibility, although whether these changes are acceptable to the SDLP, UUP and Alliance is unlikely.

If correct, the legislation may provide a confidence booster to the DUP before the October talks, and Sinn Fein may not be in a strong position to attack the DUP over the changes, although it may provide the SDLP with some ammunition.