Belfast Telegraph

A chance to exorcise the ghost of Haass

Just a couple of weeks ago these talks were being haunted by the ghost of Christmas past.

As Prime Minister David Cameron and Taoiseach Enda Kenny departed the Stormont scene in a hurry, so the script once more seemed to be about fallout.

It had all the feel of a Haass failure to it - another long negotiation with no end product.

But since then the mood has changed.

With the clock ticking towards another deadline at the tail end of last week a provisional agreement was reached on welfare, conditional on a positive Government response to a new financial pitch.

If these talks can be taken over the line, the finance welfare package will include a new supplementary payment fund. Sinn Fein believes this will help protect the most vulnerable in society.

Getting an agreement on budgets and welfare has been the top priority of these talks. But the past, parades, flags, institutional reform, Irish language and other outstanding issues have still to be addressed. That was the cause of the talking into the night.

Within the tight timeframe stipulated by Secretary of State Teresa Villiers in a weekend statement, no one was predicting agreement across each and every issue. But as the talks rumbled on so there were hints of possibilities on resolving the past and perhaps some way out of the standoff on inquests, which has been one of the high obstacles to climb.

Another talks battle is on a report on conflict themes and patterns - who should write it, who should decide on the headings to be included and when it should be written.

On parades and flags, these negotiations have progressed no further down the road. So the only parading development expected is an announcement by the Secretary of State on a long-awaited panel - first suggested by an editorial in the Belfast Telegraph - to examine the marching standoff on the Woodvale/Ardoyne interface in north Belfast.

If these talks can make progress, perhaps even a deal, on budgets, welfare and the past, then that will represent significant steps out of the Stormont stalemate.

Belfast Telegraph

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