Belfast Telegraph

10 days to save Stormont: Clock ticking but 'progress being made'

By Noel McAdam

There are 10 days left to save Stormont - or risk the threat of a third Assembly election inside a year. As ever, the negotiations are expected to go down to the wire. And, as usual, nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed.

But with the three-week period between election and D-day now at its half-way point, it is possible - according to some sources - to detect some progress, particularly in relation to dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

The likelihood remains that the deadline of next Monday week will not provide sufficient time for the five main Stormont parties and the British and Irish Governments to resolve all the entangled issues before them.

It is understood London has reiterated its pledge of £150m to deal with 'legacy' issues, which would include the long-delayed inquests into Troubles-linked killings, some dating back 40 years or more. And the Northern Ireland Office is suggesting legislation taking up more than 100 pages should go out for a period of public consultation before it becomes law.

A confidential paper handed to the parties continues to stress London's determination that national security information cannot be released and sets out that this includes information "provided by individuals to the security and intelligence agencies which would endanger or risk endangering the people involved".

The 'statement of principles on national security' further includes any information about the "identity, appearance, training or deployment" of both current and former members of the intelligence and security agencies.

None of this will play well with Sinn Fein whose focus in the talks so far appears to be on issues which, in theory, could be within the gift of the British Government, also including an Irish language act and a Bill of Rights.

On those latter two issues, however, there is no sign of progress. Sinn Fein has consistently demanded the Government must "step up to the plate".

But tellingly, in a classic piece of House of Commons theatre yesterday, Secretary of State James Brokenshire agreed with his immediate predecessor, Theresa Villiers, who proclaimed some information would "never" be put in the public domain "because it would put lives at risk".

The Secretary of State was emphatic. "National security remains the primary responsibility of the UK Government and we will continue to have that at the forefront of our minds," he said.

But Mr Brokenshire has already admitted the devil is in the detail, and it would seem another week and a half is too short a period to be able to work all of that out.

The questions over what information will be withheld, and why, remains a key stumbling block, as it has been now for several years.

Mr Brokenshire's insistence, as with the Stormont House Agreement two a half years ago, is that the component parts - including the Historical Inquiries Unit - should now be agreed and taken together "as a package".

Oddly enough, the only major issue which there has not been much mention of in the talks, it appears, is the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, which led to the election a fortnight ago today.

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