Belfast Telegraph

PM's early exit speaks volumes on the state of this process

By Brian Rowan

At just after 9am yesterday, the arrival of a police motorcycle escort was the signal that David Cameron was leaving.

Unlike the long days of hothouse negotiations associated with the Blair era, this time the Prime Minister wasn't for hanging around.

The peace process is Tony Blair's trophy. We are in different times now, both politically and financially. David Cameron has other things to worry about.

But the speed with which he left told us something else.

What it revealed is that, not just on the vexed questions of budget and welfare, but on a range of other matters as well, this negotiation process is still half-baked and perhaps even half-hearted.

The parading issue is marching on the spot, questions of identity are parked, and Mark H Durkan of the SDLP suggested that parts of the Haass proposals of a year ago have not only been diluted, but in some cases tipped down the drain.

A comprehensive deal on the many items on this agenda was never going to be done in the course of a one-night stay at Stormont.

And there was no big cheque to buy the necessary ingredients of momentum and will.

Instead, as Mr Cameron prepared to make his getaway, we got name-calling and blame game politics.

There is no suggestion that anything has moved in the standoff over welfare reform. Instead, First Minister Peter Robinson was stressing the importance of trying to resolve the wider financial matters.

However, any deal is going to have to be placed in a much wider context. The past is still at play in the present and, after Eames/Bradley and Haass/O'Sullivan, this third attempt to construct a process has progressed no further.

There is some new money available for a proposed Historical Investigations Unit, but there is still a battle about its precise role - and a political fight over whether or not legacy inquests should be part of its work.

Unionists also want to know what Dublin's contribution will be to the investigations process as well as truth recovery.

As the talks stalled yesterday, Martin McGuinness said he was "underwhelmed" by the generosity of Mr Cameron.

And one source revealed that when he was presented with one of the finance papers, the Prime Minister held it by a corner "as if it was a dirty nappy".

A symbol, if ever there was one, of the mess these talks are left in. There is little time left to try to tidy things up.

Belfast Telegraph

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