Gerry Moriarty charts what he tentatively suggests is an improvement in the discourse of the Assembly’s preparation for government committee, contrasting the fractiousness of June and July, with the more even tempered tone of August (when the big cats were away). If he’s right, Hain’s reconvening of the Assembly looks like a good call, and Sinn Fein and the DUP’s decision to put in their most genial MLA’s as co-chairs, who despite a little dispute about a radio car early on, seemed to have warmed the chamber with the lightest touch of the rudder.
In earlier discussions the main adversaries – Rev William McCrea and Ian Paisley jnr for the DUP and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness – are predictably nasty to each other.
There’s the usual stuff: about “Sinn Féin/IRA”; references to Mr McGuinness’s claim that the DUP alleged he was in MI5 to set him up for assassination; jnr that Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator is guilty of slander; there’s talk of why Mr McCrea stood shoulder to shoulder with LVF leader Billy Wright in Portadown . . . And so on.
You could write the script yourself. It is entertaining if you enjoy or are unfamiliar with such rows but it is what people in is what people in Northern Ireland have been confronted with day after day on the airwaves, in the Assembly when it sits, in the local newspapers, in council chambers – all utterly repetitive, all equally unproductive.
Yet if you fast forward through the weeks the the tone gradually changes.
That is partly because during this period it seems that Mssrs McGuinness, Paisley jnr and McCrea also took a break, leaving the work to people who did not grate so badly on each other.
Yet it is also partly because the mood genuinely improved the more the parties spoke to each other on the programme committee and its sub-group economy committee.
It is crucial here not to exaggerate the level of contact or to suggest some warmth of relationship between the DUP and Sinn Féin.
It is also important to remember that DUP leader Ian Paisley was not at the talks and appears to have been out of the political loop during the summer.
In typically capricious fashion, he could return from his vacation and scuttle progress to date with more “sackcloth and ashes” references or ultimatums about republican surrender.
Moriaty warns this is still all optics, rather than substance. But in the past body language has been important in convincing constituencies to move, if not the players themselves.