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Crisis talks get down to nitty-gritty

By Brian Rowan

Published 25/09/2015

Kevin McGuigan
Kevin McGuigan

If you didn't know that intensive cross-party talks were happening at Stormont, then you wouldn't know. That media watch that followed the twists and turns and near-collapse of the political institutions a fortnight ago has all but gone.

It is now about the boring, unexciting detail of negotiation; the arguments over words and sentences and paragraphs. And, as that continues without much fuss or attention, so there is now a wait. And what are we waiting for?

For that report on paramilitary activity and structures that has been commissioned by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

This is an assessment that will bring together the thinking of MI5, the NCA and the PSNI; a piece of homework that will be reviewed and checked by the three-person panel announced earlier this week.

If it agrees with the assessments already made public by the Chief Constable in terms of the existence of an IRA leadership structure and the involvement of IRA members in the murder of Kevin McGuigan, then there could be yet more tremors within this talks process.

But the talking is not just about the IRA. Yesterday it was about the past and the proposed structure and process that was part of the Stormont House Agreement.

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott raised concerns. That protected information given to the Independent Commission for Information Retrieval could become an amnesty through the back door.

And, on historical investigations, he wants the Irish Government on the same page as the UK Government in terms of full co-operation and disclosure.

In an earlier statement the Committee on the Administration of Justice worried out loud that the British Government still had a national security veto over legacy investigations. So, there are many questions still to answer before the past process comes into play.

And, of course, there is the continuing stand-off over welfare and budget cuts - what this crisis was about before the IRA was written into the script.

Most of the talking now is away from the cameras. But that doesn't mean the crisis has gone. For now it has just been moved behind closed doors.

Brian Rowan is a writer and commentator on security issues

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