For the first time, a leading unionist party is keeping discipline

Praise be where praise is due. In the News Letter, while maintaining silence on the substance of the talks, Sammy Wilson has made a mature and balanced case for working hard to save the Assembly. Deadlines are useful but mustn’t be mandatory. Then he issues warnings to both sides.

So while some on the unionist side may argue that we should not be concerned about the consequences of no resolution of the policing and justice issue even if it collapses the Assembly, I believe they are wrong and after the smoke of their actions has cleared there will be angry questions from the electorate.

Equally, for those on the republican side who may be contemplating pulling the Assembly down if they don’t get an unrealistic deadline met, they should realise that it might not be easy to put the Assembly together again
The DUP appear to be learning lessons from previous Ulster Unionist mistakes. They’re maintaining unity and focus under pressure while ingeniously smoking out dissent to neutralise it. Remember Peter Robinson’s reference to the false leak that Iris was about to go skiing in Chamonix? That was disinformation of MI5 quality. Wouldn’t we love to know who was caught in the trap? Perhaps we will if someone is mysteriously demoted. Meanwhile, Barney Rowan suggests that over in Sinn Fein Gerry Adams remains unweakened and is calling the shots, despite the abuse controversy.
Slugger has consistently argued that light has to be shed onto the secret process between two secretive parties. The Irish Times reports: There were also suggestions last night that any deal that is struck will be conditional in that the DUP will then take some time to establish whether there is unionist confidence to proceed with the agreement. Sinn Féin could be amenable to this if the time is relatively short.

In this potential pre-agreement phase, the best way to do that is not by a direct appeal to the electorate or restricting it to closed local DUP cabals, but by involving the other parties without delay. The loyal orders will have a say but should not be allowed a veto. If this Portadown Orange reaction is typical, the outlook is hopeful.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London