Something may be happening below the outward quietness of the political scene, straws in the wind suggesting that contacts are continuing between officials, similar to those often denied by Prime Ministers Thatcher and Major who publicly stated they would never negotiate with 'terrorists'. It is not beyond belief that various governmental sections are in serious discussions with IRA representatives in respect of the De Chastelain decommissioning activities.
Jeffrey Donaldson MP has been involved in public lectures in his new role in the DUP, instancing what might be possible should the IRA state a firm, specifically dated and authenticated programme of decommissioning of weaponry to be completed by the end of the year.
Sinn Féin's President, Gerry Adams, was in the audience at one of these lectures and, although he did not participate in the discussion, it has been reported that he acknowledged that the Unionist community may have concerns about the IRA and some way might be found to allay their fears.
Unconfirmed rumours are around that the IRA might be stood down and that some statement about the "war being over" could be made to persuade Unionists to co-operate in a re-established Assembly and Executive. However, these could be just speculation or wishful thinking.
The 16th and 18th September has been fixed for the resumption of talks with the Northern Ireland political leaders on the return of devolved government. Both the British and the Irish Prime Ministers are in close contact on the issues, although primarily British ministers and officials will be involved in direct negotiations.
Tony Blair, according to experts, hopes that there will be sufficient progress to ensure that by November an agreement might be concluded so that direct rule can be relinquished and Assembly Government again restored. This seems to link up with the Jeffrey Donaldson timetable suggestion.
Certainly Prime Minister Blair, if he intends to hold the British general election in mid 2005, will want to wrap things up and have a firm agreement between the Northern Ireland political parties in place before Christmas.
It would trouble him greatly if he had to enter the political contest with the Good Friday Agreement defunct or inopperative seven years after its signing on April 10th 1998.
If all the parties in the North have their ears close to the ground and weigh up the odds correctly they will conclude that it is in everyone's interest to come to terms. Then we can all keep our ears attuned and, as brains are heard clicking over, we will hopefully hear the pennies drop in all political groups and communities.
And if the Assembly is resurrected it will be interesting to see how the two sections of Unionism and the two Nationalist sections co-operate with each other and whether the larger in both camps gain further through defections from the smaller.
Each time, when the end game appears to be nigh, some event seems to pop up to dispel our hopes. We can only wait, in expectation that it doesn't.
I think that, when it was announced that Peter Mandelson was to be the new British European Commissioner, his contribution as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was greatly exaggerated. Indeed, I believe it was next to nil and events have shown that his input was of a minor nature.
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, 9 August 2004.
Samuel H. Boyd