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Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 01:16 GMT
Stormont's Groundhog Day
Stormont
Stormont talks have no guarantee of success

For Northern Ireland's new Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, the latest session of inter-party talks at Stormont will feel like a scene from the film Groundhog Day.

The movie revolved around a day which kept repeating itself. Over and over again, the lead character would wake up at 6am only to find that today had become yesterday. It was déja vu gone mad.

When Paul Murphy's alarm goes off at 6am and he makes the short journey to Stormont he'll probably recognise every bump on the road and every hole in the hedge.

And when he sits round the table with representatives of the local political parties, he'll know them all by first name, and will probably know the names of their partners too.

Paul Murphy
Mr Murphy must feel stuck in a rut
What is more, when the party leaders open their mouths, he will be able to predict exactly what they are going to say.

Five years ago, Mr Murphy was Northern Ireland's Political Development Minister and was engaged in a daily round of talks with Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party and the nationalist SDLP plus a long list of smaller parties.

The negotiations were a marathon, rather than a sprint, but the parties got there in the end. The result was an historic deal, the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Murphy helped broker the Agreement, now he is back to try to stop it falling apart.

Like most Hollywood films, Groundhog Day has a happy ending, but the latest episode of Stormont talks has no guarantee of success.

The collapse of devolution, following allegations of an IRA spy ring operating at Stormont, has left the peace process in a mess.

One thing is for sure - a single day of talks will not resolve the difficulties.

Common ground

What it will do is give the parties an opportunity to let off some political steam. Indeed, inter-party recriminations seem more likely to take place than inter-party negotiations.

But what all the parties round the table have in common is that they all want devolution back.

The question is - how high a price are they willing to pay?

Is the IRA ready to move towards disbandment?

Is the government ready to scale down troop levels and military installations?

Are unionists prepared to trust republicans?

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble
David Trimble is not in the cast
The answer to those questions should be known by the end of February. That is the target date for a resolution of the current problems.

The real talks are likely to go on behind the scenes rather than at round-table events at Stormont.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, decided he was too busy to attend, and appointed two party colleagues in his place.

On hearing the news, the British and Irish Governments indicated that they were disappointed but not surprised.

It is not the first time that Mr Trimble has failed to turn up for round-table talks.

Once again, history is repeating itself.

Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis

Analysis

Background

SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

TALKING POINT

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

19 Nov 02 | N Ireland
15 Oct 02 | N Ireland
15 Oct 02 | N Ireland
21 Nov 02 | N Ireland
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