Further to my summary of the position on November 16th, there has been a flurry of meetings and Ian Paisley has had a historic first meeting with Taoiseach Ahern In Dublin. Along with his entourage Paisley has also visited Downing Street to see Tony Blair.
Sinn Féin leaders, led by Gerry Adams, have made similar visits and they too have made public statements on radio and television.
Paisley has said that negotiations are at a delicate stage but are moving in the right direction. He has not had any direct contact with Sinn Féin: all exchanges have been mediated via government ministers and officials.
He has also had discussions with the head of Decommissioning, General De chastelain. As yet only Republicans have destroyed substantial quantities of armaments or put them beyond use.
It appears that meetings with the Chastelain Commission have centred on the ways by which verification might be visually recorded or witnessed by clerical persons from both communities.
Recently Paisley has said that if weapons are disposed of by the IRA and this is satisfactorily validated, then a deal might be possible for a step by step return of the Assembly in the spring of 2005.
However, it is authoritatively reported that he has privately stated that he
wants Republicans to don sackcloth and ashes, which is tantamount to surrender.
He himself has never apologised for his threatening dire consequences and his unfeeling and outrageous behaviour during his long mentoring of extreme Loyalist positions.
If this is the line he intends to pursue it does not augur well for a return to a power sharing executive of the DUP and Sinn Féin as co-ministers.
Sinn Féin could not hope to carry even the mainstream of the Republican movement if this was the underlying thrust of the deal.
Paisley seems to be trying to spin things out as long as possible, taking advantage of the nearness of a Westminster general election. Perhaps he is hoping that Tony Blair might for some reason accept or propose a deal more favourable to Unionists.
At present it is the DUP which stands in the way of a settlement, particularly since Paisley has returned to head his party. By hook or by crook he seems to be determined to negative the Good Friday Accord which he has consistently opposed since its inception.
I will indeed be agreeably astonished if he does do a reasonable deal, and I suspect that if one is done he will continue to make it difficult for Sinn Féin to cooperate in its inception.
There seems to be a great deal of circumlocution in the discussions to ensure
that if they break down the blame will be attached to their opponents.