Stormont: Failure isn't an option in Gary Hart talks
No one can deny that the challenges facing the parties at Stormont are difficult. Gary Hart, the special US envoy to the inter-party talks, acknowledges that, and we, the public, should similarly accept it. But it is an opportunity for the politicians to show their true mettle.
They came up to the mark by passing the draft budget, but in truth they had nowhere else to go, having taken the issue to the very brink. Failure to deal with it would have meant the end of the power-sharing administration and turkeys - as is often said - don't vote for Christmas.
The agenda before the parties is broad including flags, finance, the past, parades and welfare reform.
In a society emerging from conflict, it is inevitable that the parties will have issues and solutions which are dear to their own hearts and which may appear mutually exclusive. But as Mr Hart points out, the participants in the talks must move beyond mere party politics. They can create a legacy of an inclusive, prosperous future for all our citizens if they do so. That is a powerful incentive to succeed.
What they also have is the goodwill and encouragement of the British, Irish and US administrations. While any solutions must come from the imagination of the parties here, the governments are pledged to facilitate them. It is encouraging that Mr Hart feels our politicians have the intelligence, goodwill and even desire to solve the problems facing them, but that has to be viewed in the context of glacial progress. The talks need to be given fresh impetus, whether that comes from the governments putting pressure on the participants or the politicians themselves knuckling down to the job. Naomi Long of Alliance is particularly downbeat about the prospects and she is right to point out that failure will only further increase public disenchantment with the political process at Stormont.
But it would be wrong to even consider throwing in the towel at this stage. The consequences of yet another failure to face up to the hard choices demanded of any administration would be catastrophic.
If Mr Hart's analysis is correct then there is hope that a concerted effort could yield results. The parties must resist the temptation to indulge in sideshows, such as calls for nationalist pacts in forthcoming elections, and concentrate on the big issues.