Posted By: January 06, 2014

Tom Kelly.Irish News ( Belfast). Monday, January, 6, 2014
CHURCHILL once said of a Treasury document: “This paper, by its very length, defends
itself against the risk of being read.”

So too could be said of the Haass document published last week.

Its rambling and at times lyrical text is American draughtsmanship at its best.

A long, wordy document crammed with praise for the protagonists and containing
complex and confounding solutions that would have done credit to the scriptwriters
of the American TV series Lost.

Unsurprisingly only the SDLP could follow the Haass script so quickly. Sinn Fein, or
more particularly Gerry Adams, was also quick to sound positive but then again he is
desperately in need of a hug these days and the party needs to sound genuine at
peace-making if those $500-a-plate dinners at the Sheraton, Manhattan are to
continue filling the coffers of Connolly House.

Not so surprising was the unionist reaction to Haass. They have been victims of
boiler house talks processes before and unlike their nationalist counterparts are
unaccustomed to late nights, large whiskeys and smoke-filled rooms. Unionists did
not, as has been claimed, “sleepwalk” into the Good Friday Agreement – they were
bullied into it.

They were expected to trust Sinn Fein to deliver to the un-written spirit of the
agreement and that was a costly mistake that haunted the then first minister David

The British, Irish and American governments all waxed enthusiastically about how
they would be guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, Meanwhile, Sinn Fein played
fast and loose with an in/ out approach to constitutional politics.

Dr Haass and his academic vice chairwoman, Dr O’Sullivan, were typical in their
deployment of American hope and hyperbole – always sounding upbeat, posting
optimistic tweets and well sounding Walton-esque pronouncements. But then again
Americans love their politics with dollops of apple pie and homespun wisdom.

It is questionable if these two individuals, however well qualified and well
meaning, were ever the right type of people to bash heads together, to cajole and to
enforce an agreement.

Yet maybe that’s why they were chosen. They certainly gave it their best go and
giving up so much time, particularly over the Christmas and New Year period, is

Unfortunately they found out that Ballyhackamore is not the Brookings Institute and
the hallowed halls of Harvard are no matches for the cold realities of interfaces in

The Haass solutions which are proposed are more complicated and overly cumbersome
than are required – even for Northern Ireland.

We would end up with the most bureaucratic and useless additional quangos, which
would fail at the first hurdle because of a lack of basic common respect and trust
between the political parties. A point well illustrated by the DUP trying to corral
the other executive parties over policies they disagree with by taking them to

But as Marx pointed out – Groucho, not Karl – “politics is the art of looking for
trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong

Haass was presented with some intractable problems that cannot be unravelled by a
number of commissions. For example, flags and parades are inextricably linked as
they are both about identity.

Our governmental processes are not perfect, in fact they are far from it, but they
are the best we are going to get in this generation.

Northern Ireland is part of the UK for the foreseeable future and the flying of
tricolours from Strabane to Newry won’t change that.

Northern Ireland exists as a region and is distinctive in its character. Certainly
southerners see us as different to them and as for the English, well let’s say if we
were as far away as the Falklands they probably would have handed us over to the
Argentines years ago.

The topography and streetscape of many towns and cities within the north has changed
too and unionists would do well to accept that as fact instead of wishing it was

The truth about the Haass process is that having wasted nearly three years without
elections we are very much into an election cycle now and conceding ground during
this period is not fertile space for compromise.

The parties know they need to refresh and consolidate their mandates.

What the public is entitled to know is not whether they support the Haass proposals
but what their own party position is in relation to the issues within Haass.

For the time being the unionists have seen off the “Yea-sayers” and nationalist
enthusiasm for Haass will only serve to strengthen that resolve.