Posted By: September 19, 2013

The Belfast columnist casts a cold eye on Haass Talks


Braian Feeney.Irish Nws( Belfast). Wednesday, September 18, 2013.
YOU may not have seen this because it didn’t get much coverage but last week Richard Haass laid out his agenda as ‘dealing with parades, dealing with flags and emblems, dealing with the legacy of the past’.Then he came out with the following: “I expect also at times we will also be discussing the future, the challenge of dealing with the segregated nature of housing, schooling, and the like.”


Although he has belatedly rowed back, the fact that he said it shows a sloppiness of thinking that’s disappointing. It is also the sheer effrontery of a guy who obviously imagines that he can produce a list of solutions for anything he thinks is ‘wrong’ here.

Who asked him to deal with housing or schooling? You also know that when his ‘solutions’ fall on their face it’s not going to be Haass’s fault. Oh no. It’ll be down to local politicians. By that time he’ll be back in America no doubt solving the problems of say, the Middle East or Africa where American solutions have improved matters enormously, haven’t they? The results speak for themselves, don’t they?

No, it’s not going to work. Haass doesn’t inspire confidence.

Leave aside for the moment Haass’s flawed approach. Suppose for the sake of argument he hands down his tablets from a lofty height in Washington and Sinn Fein and the DUP say they’ll give it a go.

For most aspects legislation is required. Certainly that’s the case with flags and emblems and the British government will also have to have an input there since the Parades Commission is a Westminster body and designated days for flying a Union flag is a UK affair.

How long do you think it will take to produce the relevant legislation at Stormont? Do you think it will be ready before next summer?

How do you think that would go down during the campaign for the European elections due on May 22 next year?

Do you think the DUP would have the courage or integrity to campaign for a deal with Sinn Fein on flags, emblems and parades never mind what is called ‘the past’?

Given their record, and that’s another issue, could you depend on them to stand by any agreement they’d made as soon as Jim Allister cleared his throat in a debate? That’s all supposing there’s a deal agreed, which there won’t be. As Simon Hamilton pointed out on Sunday, the DUP can’t even agree what a victim is despite the fact that the definition is already enshrined in legislation. You see the DUP thinks laws are like dolly mixtures[kids’ candy]. They only choose the ones they like.

Anything to do with the legacy of the Troubles must involve the British and Irish governments but as Gerry Adams pointed out, our proconsul has already interfered in the Haass process and fired a shot across his bows declaring that there will be no more inquiries and in any case the British can’t afford the sort of arrangements Eames-Bradley envisaged. And given Eamon Gilmore’s hostility to Sinn Fein, there’s no public input at all from Dublin.

No, Haass is unlikely to produce a deal on anything.

The format of his process is bizarre: listening for a few days then vanishing for a month to return for a few more days and repeat the process.

So they aren’t talks, aren’t negotiations. In fact talks and negotiations will only begin in the new year when Haass has revealed his master plan.

Which takes us back to the timetable. Will Haass’s blueprint, master plan, call it what you will, merely be the starting point for another tour of stately homes by party delegations in 2014?

Is it at that stage that Dublin and London step in with financial pressure and other threats which have worked in the past?

One consequence you can be certain of is that the DUP and Sinn Fein will not buy any plan from Haass without having their own fingerprints on it which will enable them to sell the outcome to their respective electorates. For everyone else, it’s waiting for Godot.