The most striking thing about the St Andrews Agreement is its lack of detail. But it is clear that the two main parties are proceding to fill in the gaps for themselves and coming up with radically different answers. The hurried emergence of Jim Alister as a dissident-in-chief for the DUP may be an indication that that party was not expecting the pressure Hain and Blair actually put on them on Thursday afternoon to strike the framework of a deal. That Sinn Fein were the only party to ask for a private meeting after the final plenary may also indicate that it was as much as surprise to them as their unionist rivals.All the significant detail now seems up for competitive interpretation. Take the Irish Language Act. Sinn are banking on it bringing in a general requirement of billinguallism, whilst the DUP see it embodying the minimal version of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, with all the caveats that might constrain rollout to levels of useage.
The ‘new timetable’, which effectively reduces the big one of 24th November to a waystage, also has added flexibility. It may simply have been a device to get both parties to (or seem to) leapfrog their long stated objections, and spin the Peace Process out just a wee bit longer.
Liddington’s tip to the Alliance a few months ago that people might need to look to November next year, rather than this one, comes back into view perhaps.