Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland parties must stop playing poker politics and try plain talking instead

It's time to shed strong light on the Stormont talks stalemate, writes David Gordon

Hands up who knows what the key sticking points are in the Stormont talks?

Anyone?

Is it too much to expect the parties to publicly spell out just what the problems are?

We all have a bit of a stake in the stalemate, after all.

Of course, we know the main issues which have been under discussion - legacy, Irish language, Brexit, same sex marriage etc.

But what precisely are the seemingly unbridgeable gaps between the parties?

Take an Irish Language Act, for example.

Are the DUP and UUP opposed to any legislation on the subject, no matter what it contains? Is it just the title of the proposed Act, or the fact that it wouldn't cover other languages?

Or are there more concrete areas of disagreement on how far to promote the use of Irish in the public sphere and the estimated costs involved?

If it's principally about the cost, how much are they talking about?

Then there's the legacy dilemma.

We've been told for many months that progress is being held up by disagreement over national security - particularly the extent to which disclosures relating to the Troubles could be blocked on national security grounds.

Presumably, the talks have looked in great detail at potential mechanisms for deciding when disclosures could be withheld - and who would take such decisions.

Any chance we could see just what has been proposed, what has been ruled out by one side or another, and why?

I am, of course, being hopelessly naïve once again.

Negotiations happen in secret. Parties don't reveal their hands.

It's a game of poker, disguised as a game of chess, masquerading as a downhill ski slalom. Or something like that.

But there is an infuriating vagueness, a slackness of language that is adding to the feeling of déjà vu all over again, the mood of 'can you all please just stop'?

I still keep reading that power-sharing collapsed over RHI. Really? Over a problem that at its worst would have cost around 0.2% of the Executive's annual current account spend?

It was plainly about much more than RHI.

There's a need for more frank speaking on legacy too. Whatever can be agreed at talks is inevitably going to be limited, when it comes to dealing with the past.

It's not going to give victims what they actually deserve - their loved ones back and the years of pain rubbed out.

Any mechanisms established for looking into the past will also lead to few, if any, fresh prosecutions.

And expectations of full truth-telling about Troubles actions should be managed too. Memories will have faded, witnesses will be unreliable or just not there anymore. And that's before we come to all the vested interests in keeping secrets under wraps.

There's loose talk, meanwhile, on the idea of London-Dublin 'joint authority' in the event of the Stormont talks failing.

Few people spell out what they actually mean by the phrase. Do they mean London working hand in glove with Dublin when it comes to big decisions about this place?

That's already been the case for many years.

Or are they actually talking about Northern Ireland being shifted out of the UK? Into a new, hybrid constitutional position where day to day government - including running and funding public services - is jointly done by London and Dublin ministers?

Who thinks that's even close to the thinking of either Theresa May or Enda Kenny? And how would it fit with the consent principle in the Good Friday Agreement?

The joint authority talk is partly fuelled by the idea that it was on the agenda if the 2006 St Andrews Agreement hadn't been struck and implemented.

But what was talked about then was a much more vague "British-Irish partnership" that didn't have to mean very much at all.

Ian Paisley used that "threat" to justify his power sharing U-turn, but that spin has no bearing on where we are today.

Where we are is where we've been since all the March 2 votes were counted.

It's a mess that can be fixed, but might not be.

Surely a bit more plain speaking and blunt honesty would help a bit?

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