So the parties are to respond to a paper issued by the two governments today. After four months of apparent lack of close engagement by the British government in particular , talks took on a clearer shape and urgency since the Westminster general election. The paper has been seen by Barney Rowan and summarised in Eamonn Mallie’s website .
The content of the the legacy section has been around for months with agreement said to be on the brink for most of that time – but not quite. For Sinn Fein the main sticking point remains of the British government ‘s definitive view of national security as an inhibitor on disclosure. Sinn Fein seem no nearer to accepting this than ever.
What is to be the role of public consultation over this document? Are the parties expected to agree with all or parts of it first before it‘s published? . Will publication be accompanied by a commentary on what has been agreed? Or will this public consultation be yet another stalling move? Each party is certain to publish its own view. How much of different views can be reconciled?
Whatever they decide to do about the paper, will the parties now agree to return to the Assembly to continue the debate there? And once back will they stay there whether they reach full agreement or not? How much can be squeezed out in the form of concessions by prolonging the boycott?
The delayed DUP deal with the Tories at Westminster doesn’t seem like a serious concern after Leo Varadkar accepted Theresa May’s assurances yesterday.
In the legacy section, the government’s intention is clearly signalled – “the next step should be to consult the public”.
“The main negotiation on legacy is over,” one source commented.
As part of a consultation, there had been plans to publish a statement of principles on National Security. This will not now happen.
“We told them the [national security] paper was totally unacceptable,” one talks insider commented
This website has also read that statement of principles, previously shared with the parties. The National Security veto, which will decide what information can be shared in reports emerging from investigations and information-retrieval processes, is a continuing standoff involving the British Government, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
It is certain to emerge in any public consultation, along with the funding for a legacy project.
The proposal is for a £150million package covering the Historical Investigations Unit, Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, an archive and reconciliation element. After two years, the funding proposal would be reviewed to be assessed whether sufficient.
Unionist concerns about that new Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) and a proposal from the Defence Select Committee for a statute of limitations are also likely to become part of any consultation.
In the latest paper, Irish language, Ulster Scots, an Armed Forces Covenant and the petition of concern are grouped under the heading Equality and Respect.
The publicly stated position of the SDLP is that the way to solve these controversial issues is to reform the petition of concern, but there is not yet a consensus or agreement on the way forward.
This is made clear in the latest talks document.
Across several dozen pages, it identifies the key issues to be resolved and the gaps that have to be closed within the latest short time frame of a June 29 deadline.
There is much work still to be done and not much time within which to do it; the effort here in Belfast further complicated by those continuing separate talks involving the DUP and the Conservative Party.
For a second time in recent days, I have been told that if “a good agreement” can be achieved on the key issues in the Stormont Talks, then it would not be impossible to resolve the issue of Arlene Foster as First Minister.
The Sinn Fein position is that the DUP leader cannot hold Executive office until the completion of the RHI Inquiry, but a key source sees room for manoeuvre.
“Let’s think our way through it. Politics is the art of the possible,” he said.
But how much is possible in such a short time – in London and here?
And how final is this final deadline of June 29?
Can the Foster/Dodds leadership move the DUP to the point where an agreement is possible – to force SInn Féin into a rethink on Arlene Foster?
Might another Assembly Election still fit somewhere within this frame?
We are heading for another intense period of talks still not knowing what will be on the far side of all the documents and negotiations that are a part of trying to fix the broken politics of this place.
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