Update On The Richard Haas Talks

Richard Haas was asked by the Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland to chair a set of talks to help resolve three toxic and controversial issues that remain in Northern Ireland. These are:


  1. Dealing with The Past
  2. Parades & Protests
  3. Flags & Emblems

Richard Haas was joined by Meghan O'Sullivan who worked with the various political parties in Northern Ireland to try and reach a consensus on the above mentioned subjects.
Richard Haas

Meghan O'Sullivan

The weary majority of people in Northern Ireland believed that these talks would come to nothing. You may well ask why and the answer is much simpler than you may think. Many of the politicians in Northern Ireland are so stuck in the past, and so afraid of losing votes, that they are not willing to show leadership, or take any decision that they would consider a minor risk.

Progress of the Haas Discussions

After many meetings and consultations Haas produced a final document with his recommendations for moving this process forward. It was welcomed and supported by both the SDLP and Sinn Fein, the two Nationalist parties.

It was given some support in various elements by the Alliance Party.

It was not supported by the two main Unionist parties namely the DUP and The UUP.

So without the consensus of both sides of the community, it is pretty much dead in the water. In my opinion that is more money wasted and despite the great efforts of the invited guests we trundle on, leaving the problems waving in the wind.

What Was In The Proposal Documents?

On New Year's Eve of 2013 the final version of this document was produced after many changes. I doubt if many people in Northern Ireland will have actually read it, but that won't stop them having an opinion on it. The overview of the document stated:
The May 2013 “Together: Building a United Community” strategy called for the formation of a Panel of Parties in the NI Executive to recommend ways forward on parades and protests, flags and emblems, and the past. The First Minister and deputy First Minister invited Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan to serve as chair and vice chair of the Panel.
 The Panel’s work took nearly six months, including 33 days of meetings and negotiations, and involved some 100 meetings with 500 people and 600 submissions from interested groups and the public.
 The Panel worked to produce a substantive accord that would:
o Help Northern Ireland meet some of its most vexing challenges;
o Do so in a way that reduced sectarianism and promoted reconciliation and a shared future; and
o Be acceptable to all five parties of the Executive.
 As a five-party document, the proposed agreement necessarily required compromise on some preferences, but not core principles, by all involved. To reach an agreement that would win the approval of all, no party could achieve all it wanted and not all issues could be addressed.

So as you can see the intent of the document is pretty clear and that was to work on all three issues and get the agreement of all 5 main political parties. In theory if agreement could be reached, then the people of Northern Ireland could look forward to a more settled future.

Here are the recommendations for each of the three strands starting with Parades.

Parades In Northern Ireland

  • A new body would be created called The Office for Parades, Select Commemorations and Related protests who would then be responsible for event notifications, promoting dialogue and mediation between event organisers and local communities.
  • The Authority for Public Events Adjudication would in some cases set conditions on the small number of events that requires special treatment. Decisions would be taken by a seven member panel led by a legally qualified person.
  • This would also include principles for a new code of conduct set in law

My Interpretation of This Suggestion

There already is a Parade's Commission that does a similar job. They are disliked by the Orange Order and the Unionist Parties in general because on certain occasions they have placed restrictions on a small percentage of their marches. The new proposal sounds like two bodies replacing this single body and then enshrining expected behaviour in some type of law.

In my opinion the Orange Order will not accept any body that may restrict their wishes to march when they want and where they want. If the Unionist politicians know that, and many of them are also in the Orange Order, then they will also reject this as well.

Flags and Emblems Proposal

The proposal document basically stated that there was little or no consensus on a way forward on this thorny issue. As such the proposal suggested putting this on the long finger and establish a Commission on culture, identity and tradition.

My Interpretation of This Suggestion

This issue will never go away as you in essence have two tribes. The Unionist tribe claim loyalty to the Queen of England and believe their flag is that of the United Kingdom, which is the Union Jack of red white and blue. The Nationalist tribe believe Ireland should be united and that their flag is the Tricolour of green, white and orange.

Throw in a mix of Ulster Scots, sovereignty and cultural identity and this is going nowhere.

Contending With The Past

This one made the most progress and accords victims and survivors special consideration in making individual choices as to how they can either find out the truth, get justice or have both, depending on their wishes.

The report recommends setting up:
  • A Mental Trauma Service
  • Historical Investigations Unit
  • Independent Commission for Information Retrieval

My Interpretation of This Suggestion

It seems that if in doubt set up a few commissions and a few extra bodies to get things done. The Unionists were adamant that information that may have been revealed in the Information Retrieval process, although not directly admissible in court, could be used to conduct prosecutions if evidence was found by other means. Their point in this was that there would be no amnesty for any IRA member who gave evidence that might help discover the truth.

That basically makes the chances of any voluntary information null and void. In addition the Unionists were unhappy about the same type of profile being given to State killings or collusion.

So in conclusion and despite some industrious work by both Haas and O'Sullivan, it proved to be yet another talking shop for the Northern Ireland politicians. These are people in the main who have the collective leadership skills of a bunch of unruly children.

UPDATE

These talks went nowhere. Almost all of the parties in Northern Ireland agreed on some of the issues but there was not full agreement on any of them. The talking has all stopped and the Haas talks are now over without having achieved anything.