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Public will know who to blame if this fails

One thing that has changed in the talks is that Sinn Fein, backed by the DUP, is now asking for more time and appealing for the British Government to "remain engaged".

Time was when meetings between republicans and the British Government were accompanied by requests to disengage from Ireland within the life of the coming parliament.

Negotiations are now revolving around extracting more money from Britain to administer the benefit system and other aspects of British rule at Stormont. That used to be considered collaboration, but times have changed.

They will keep changing but are unlikely to change enough before Christmas to allow Sinn Fein to make a compromise on welfare reform or the DUP to stop rejecting Sinn Fein's wish-list, which includes reforming the institutions at Stormont, an all-Ireland Bill of Rights and an Irish language television station.

So there won't be an all-round agreement on everything from welfare reform to flags, parading and the past, never mind Sinn Fein's list. That doesn't mean nothing at all can be salvaged.

The parties seem pretty close to agreeing a reduction in the number of MLAs and Stormont departments.

That would be a popular announcement.

They have also agreed a budget to carry us through to April, so that should postpone the next real crisis until the Westminster election on May 7, so there is still time for talks.

Devolution of justice was achieved the February before an election.

The Bill granting powers to devolve corporation tax could still go through before the general election if other parties supported it.

Devolving the tax costs £40m a percentage point and, under EU rules, it must be paid for by Stormont, not Westminster.

Legislation like this can be put through fairly quickly.

Agreement could be reached at the talks, too, if the politicians stretched themselves.

Instead, there are disturbing signs of a blame game taking over, with Labour blaming the Prime Minister, Gerry Adams blaming the Irish Government and Martin McGuinness blaming the British - while most other parties blame Sinn Fein.

The public should be wary of accepting such explanations - any failure is a collective failure by a group of well-paid people who have wasted a lot of time repeating themselves.

The British Government also needs to up its financial offer to give this thing one last push.

"Can't be done" or blaming "themmuns" are not acceptable explanations.

Belfast Telegraph

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