Posted By: September 07, 2013

The writer examines some of the difficulties  facing American diplomat.

Denis Bradley. Irish News. (Belfast). Friday, September 6, 2013
The first time I met Richard Haass he was looking for ‘robust’ cops. Representing the American government, he was asking for a few hundred experienced cops from the PSNI to train police rookies in Iraq and Afghanistan. He came to the newly formed Policing Board to make his pitch. If my memory is accurate, his request fell upon deaf ears. I don’t think the word ‘robust’ went down well among some of the members of the board.
We have somewhat turned the tables. Haass is now the ‘robust’ one, tasked to move us beyond our messy past. He has been asked to do it with little more than his reputation, coupled with his political and diplomatic experience. He is to be a facilitator rather than an enforcer. He is to facilitate a group of politicians who collectively have shown little insight, appetite or ability to address, never mind solve, such thorny issues.
I find it slightly alarming that the two governments are not invited. It is not that they don’t have questions to answer. Republicans are adamant that the British were every bit as much combatants as were the IRA and point the finger at them for the deaths of some of those killed and injured. Unionists claim that the Irish government gave succour and support to the IRA and therefore have to take some responsibility for the deaths of many. McGuinness and Robinson drew up the invitation list and the two governments were not on it but there is little evidence that either of the governments were banging on the door to get in.
Haass has been given little time to do his work so he might be well advised to look to the combatants rather than to the victims for a rapid understanding of the conflict and an appreciation of the continuing blockages. He will be told by many that we cannot reach agreement on the definition of ‘victim’, that victims and their needs are central to the solution or that victims are impossible to please and a blockage to moving on. He needs to know that, even more importantly and perhaps more centrally, we cannot agree on who were the combatants and how much responsibility each and all of them need to take for their actions of the past.
Haass has probably already sensed that you don’t always get what it says on the tin. For example, the UVF did not instigate the flags dispute but they used it (and later the parades) to tell the DUP and the British that while they were willing to accept corporate responsibility for their past, individual members were not going to serve jail terms while the political classes in Stormont and Westminster walked free and treated their members as beneath contempt. In private the UVF want an amnesty. In public that translates into a message to the HET and the PSNI to stop prosecuting their members. A good few years ago the IRA and the British had agreed an amnesty for ‘on the runs’ until some of the nationalists victims realized it also entailed an amnesty for British soldiers facing prosecution. Letting Paras and others walk scot free to allow a small group of IRA men and women return to the north scot free was too much for some victims and they let it be known. The issue was put on the long finger. It has lain dormant until recently when a high-profile case landed in an English court. It took Sinn Fein by surprise and has left them nervous. They see the ‘securocrats’ back at their black deeds.
The DUP and the Ulster Unionists have set up forums with the UVF and the UDA over the recent complaints of economic and cultural neglect. But both parties have other balls to keep in the air, most especially the one that protects the reputation of the RUC and the UDR. Above all else they must protect those organizations from being classified as combatants rather than the upholders of law and order against the criminality of the paramilitaries, including the UVF and the UDA. It is becoming more difficult for the unionist parties to keep all these balls in the air. An amnesty for the RUC and the UDR would be a Godsend to the DUP and the UUP but they know partial amnesties are not deliverable.
Some commentators have already written off the Haass talks. I’m not that pessimistic. A little ‘robust’ facilitation might deliver something.