As crisis talks at Stormont spill into the weekend senior sources last night put the chances of success at 50/50.
After days of talking the big issues remain the same — the republican demand for a date for the devolution of policing and justice, with the DUP arguing progress on parades is essential.
Writing on his blog last night, Gerry Adams was giving little away: “The discussions continue. Least said the better, but this time there has to be product — progress is mandatory.”
That means agreeing the date for the transfer of justice powers, and doing so soon. But last night a senior talks source criticised the republican approach: “The Shinners haven’t helped by creating this high wire situation.”
He said there was a need to take the talks “away from a deadline type scenario (and) to lower the temperature.”
Those observing the negotiations are being fed on scraps of information with the two main players working hard to keep the detail of discussions inside the room But outside the talks venue the focus remains on those senior sceptics inside the DUP, including Gregory Campbell MP.
Earlier this week he and Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson met Gordon Brown.
“The three positions were more or less the same coming out as they were going in,” a source told this newspaper. “Sammy (Wilson) in favour, Gregory (Campbell) against and Nigel (Dodds) in the middle.”
“That’s probably not inaccurate,” a DUP source commented.
As well as talks with the DUP yesterday, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness met Secretary of State Shaun Woodward and had a phone conversation with Hillary Clinton.
On the thorny issue of parades, the DUP wants more than a new body to rule on marches.
“If you get the new mechanism you would hope that you would get local agreements on parades,” a source commented.
“There’s no point getting a new mechanism if you don’t solve the problem.”
This issue has the potential to open up old marching sores.
“I suspect they (the DUP) want a deal,” another source commented, “but a deal which they can claim was not extracted under
pressure, which means they want cover on parades.
“But if they think they are getting a march down the Garvaghy Road, then they are whistling Dixie,” the source added.
Earlier this week a political source told this newspaper that Sinn Fein needed to be “more creative” on the parades issue.
And yesterday a senior DUP figure is reported to have said that “Sinn Fein needs to get real”.
It is not clear whether this was a specific reference to parades or a more general comment about the negotiations.
Republicans are working to a tight deadline with suggestions that a judgment on the worth of the current negotiations will be made within days.
Other sources believe there should be more time — that a “hot house exercise” won’t work.
“Nobody is going to walk away from this if progress is being made,” one observer suggested.
These talks have not yet reached the point of decision — and with some more time available it is not yet possible to judge whether a breakthrough is possible.
The consequences of failure could be an early Assembly election