so much for deadlines..

As previously noted, none of the dancers seem to be able to decide what the next step is in the choreography, and the Irish Times today reports that next week’s meeting between Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair, on Wednesday 8th March, will now be merely dedicated to “reviewing the process” and assessing the contacts which had been made recently with all parties.. perhaps at some point, eventually, someone’s going to question the Secretary of State for Wales and Northern Ireland, Peter Hain’s preferred strategy of setting deadlines and waving big sticks in the air.. perhaps..Despite the apparent indecision, though, the Irish Times report notes the continued, but perhaps optimistic, hints from the prime minister’s official spokesman of a decision yet to come –

The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The prime minister has an increasingly clear view about what needs to be done, as I’ve said before, but we are not yet at the point of decisions being taken.”

He characterised the “no announcement/no press conference” nature of next Wednesday’s private meeting as a natural opportunity for the prime minister and Taoiseach to take stock of the situation ahead of the usual break in proceedings generated by the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations at home and abroad.

Political sources in Dublin and Belfast earlier this week talked up the prospect of Mr Blair and Mr Ahern announcing plans next Wednesday to take the initiative in relation to restoring the suspended political institutions.

This was expected to include the restoration of the Northern Assembly in “shadow” form.

This Assembly would continue for a limited period, with full restoration of the elected Assembly conditional on agreement to re-establish the power-sharing executive.

The strength of Sinn Féin and SDLP opposition is believed to have led to a view among government officials that more time is needed to decide how to proceed.

Senior British and Irish officials met in London yesterday to consider how to go forward.

It was accepted in Whitehall that last night’s announcement would excite talk of fresh crisis in the political process.

However, while the precise timeframe for the proposed British initiative remains to be decided, the preference now appears to be for a period of six months rather than a year, pointing to a decision to reconvene the Assembly by the beginning of May.