Belfast Telegraph

Stormont talks: Long history of deadlines missed and late deals

By Claire O'Boyle

Yesterday's missed deadline continues a long tradition of failure in Northern Ireland - often requiring a degree of political creativity to keep things moving forward.

The Good Friday Agreement itself wasn't even signed on time - although its name wouldn't have had such Biblical connotations a few days earlier.

Former US Senator George Mitchell had set an absolute deadline of the stroke of midnight on April 9, 1998. But as the Ulster Unionists thrashed it out to push for even better terms, the hours ticked by ... and it wasn't until 5.30pm on April 10 that the momentous agreement was made.

Events continued in that vein. Then Prime Minister Tony Blair set another outright deadline of June 30, 1998 for the formation of an Executive - and again the date came and went. While the First and Deputy Ministers were named on July 1, it wasn't until almost five months later, on November 29, 1998, that the full executive was signed off.

More problems followed when the deadline for decommissioning, which was set for May 2000, passed. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning set a new date for June 30, 2001, but again it came and went without disarmament.

The crisis came to a head that July when then First Minister and Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble stepped down in protest about the IRA's failure to hand over its weapons, pushing the whole peace process to the verge of collapse.

However the situation was salvaged in November, when Alliance temporarily redesignated as unionist.

More recently, In 2014, the lead-up to the signing of the Stormont House Agreement was punctuated by a series of missed deadlines.

It finally came after 30 hours of continuous, last-minute negotiations - popularly known as 'hot house' talks - and was published on December 23, 2014.

The following year, the then prime minister David Cameron set the end of October as a deadline. A Fresh Start was signed a month later following 10 weeks of talks.

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