A ray of light in the bid to save the collapse of Stormont in Northern Ireland has emerged with all parties agreeing to round-table talks.
But, with parties still struggling to make their round-table discussions productive, it could be at least mid-October before there is a real sign of headway.
The report of a paramilitary assessment promised by the British government to attract Unionists to the talks is unlikely to be available for at least three weeks.
The all-party talks started on Monday in a bid to break the deadlock over the status of the IRA and welfare reform.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Peter Robinson joined the talks just a day after being released from hospital following another health scare since his heart attack last May. He spent 24 hours in hospital after being admitted on Saturday night for what he said was a bad reaction to some medication he had been taking since the May attack.
The talks are being hosted by the British government’s Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and the Republic’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, who is also Stormont’s deputy first minister, said during a break in talks that if anyone has evidence linking Sinn Fein to criminality, they should go the police.
“It is now time to put up or shut up,” he said.
McGuinness accused some of the other parties of being “mischievous” by suggesting Sinn Fein was involved in criminality
Robinson said parties must engage seriously right from the outset of talks. He said there had been some “grandstanding,” but nonetheless there appeared “to be a level of realism about what needs to be done.”
Robinson stepped down as Stormont first minister two weeks ago and pulled all but one of his DUP ministers out of the power-sharing Executive. He appointed Finance Minister Arlene Foster as acting first minister. The move was taken to keep the power-sharing Executive alive in shadow form, pending the outcome of talks.
The political crisis was sparked by the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan last month. His killing was a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard “Jock” Davison in Belfast three months earlier.
Already, questions have been raised in Republican circles about the arrest by the Police Service of Northern (PSNI) of Sinn Fein Northern Ireland chairman Bobby Storey and his subsequent unconditional release by detectives investigating the McGuigan murder. Storey is suing the PSNI for being wrongfully held.
Last Friday, the British government ordered an independent assessment of paramilitary groups in the North, a concession to Unionists who insisted that if the IRA remains alive, Sinn Fein should not be allowed to continue in office. Sinn Fein has insisted the IRA is gone.