Belfast Telegraph

Stormont mood music appears to be good but can the parties sing from the same hymn sheet?

By Noel McAdam

Day seven of the talks and, so far, little sign of progress.

Lots of meetings but no meetings of minds.

Even the sunny spring weather, while bringing an air of cheer, cannot penetrate the gathering sense of gloom.

Yet the mood between the parties appears positive - a lot of the animosity witnessed during the election seems to have all but evaporated.

Nevertheless, the overall impression is that they are getting bogged down in the issues that are up for negotiation.

It is not quite at the level of a John le Carre novel yet, but already the power games of bluff and counter-bluff are well under way.

Most of the parties believe Secretary of State James Brokenshire is bluffing when he talks about calling an early second election. Instead they think he will be inclined to play for time - although how much time is a guessing game.

Sinn Fein insists they are not bluffing when stating they will not make a nomination for Deputy First Minister if the DUP put Arlene Foster forward for First Minister. But some in the DUP still think they might.

Quite a few MLAs were still knocking about yesterday, settling into their offices, but there is no actual business being done. With no ministers, there is little need for scrutiny committees to be meeting to monitor them.

Everything is in abeyance, with a strange sense of limbo, at least until the first hurdle of attempting to form an Executive on Monday week.

The media has been shunted round the back of Stormont House, just beside a massive greenhouse, where occasionally some of the parties wander out for a chat.

Of course, there are quips about people who live in glass houses not throwing stones - and greenhouse gasses.

It is a nice location, with a garden and an old fountain, which is not working

Cameramen quite like it for the light. The front of Stormont House is - perhaps appropriately enough - a place of shadows.

Journalists covering these many years of talks, and talks about talks, don't miss the car fumes as folk arrive and leave.

It means, however, that reporters cannot see who is coming and going. We can't record the minutiae the way we did for the Stormont House Agreement, the Richard Haass talks - admittedly the foyer of the Stormont Hotel made that easier - and even Fresh Start, which although no longer fresh, is certainly far from finished.

Legacy proposals put to the parties behind closed doors yesterday seemed to owe a lot to Stormont House.

But the gap on dealing with the Troubles, including the long-delayed inquests, appears to be widening.

There is even some speculation over whether the parties can do a deal on finding a Speaker in time to run the election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister the week after next.

And some say if they can't get that far it might prove impossible to conduct any further business.

The problem, however, is that the legislation arising from the St Andrews talks insists they have to, so there will be some form of meeting.

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