Various rumours have been circulating about a deal, or rather a possibility of one, which would facilitate the resumption of devolved govern ment in Northern Ireland.
One idea mooted is that there should be seven 'super councils' set up, presumably one for each of the Six Counties and one for Belfast itself. Apparently this was deemed to be unacceptable to Unionists, as the majority of these would be represented by Nationalists / Republicans.
However, since earlier in the week Paul Murphy MP, Secretary of State For Northern Ireland, announced that the British government had, in good faith, accepted the ceasefire undertaking by the Loyalist 'Ulster Defence Association', hopes have risen that progress might be made. He further added that, provided that they adhered to it they could participate in the talks on steps towards ending the impasse on the suspension of the Assembly.
There are also positive indications that Republican paramilitaries (PIRA: Provisional IRA) are prepared to engage further and put more weaponry irretrievably beyond use. In addition to the international verifiers from the De Chastelain Commission, they would accept the attendance at such events of Catholic and Protestant clerics.
The previous destruction of weapons by the PIRA was unprecedented and the latest offer even more so. But if the response from Ian Paisley and the DUP is favourable then that too, historically speaking, would be unprecedented.
The question is does Ian Paisley, in his so obviously more fragile condition of health, feel that he has achieved his lifetime ambition to take over the leadership of 'Loyalism' by defeating his so-called 'Lundies' as well as Nationalists / republicans?
And will he allow his Deputy Leader Robinson (who seems very uncomfortable standing beside him) sufficient leeway to come to terms with Sinn Féin and cooperate with them in all the functions and applications of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 as it is currently written?
What I believe is most likely to happen is that Paisley will say that he will wait to see whether and how much destruction of weapons takes place and how quickly other paramilitary actyivities diminish before entertaining such cooperation.
This latest decommissioning suggestion would take place before the end of the year. If and when it occurs will the old bullfrog of the Belfast marches come to terms or will he, like oliver Twist, ask for more?
The two governments are due to issue proposals to the parties for the restart of the Assembly and the power sharing executive. These have been kept under wraps so we can still speculate as to whether they are downgrading or altering the 1998 Agreement, a pandering to the DUP, and in effect a Unionist veto, or a reassertion of its terms.
Can something really be moving in the Nortern Ireland political undergrowth?