Failure to endorse Haass ‘has damaged Northern Ireland’

Archbishop Eamon Martin says confidence in politics to resolve problems undermined

Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, (right) has said the failure of the Haass talks process has undermined the belief that politics can fix difficult problems. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, (right) has said the failure of the Haass talks process has undermined the belief that politics can fix difficult problems. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Tue, Feb 4, 2014, 20:21

The failure of Northern politicians to endorse the Haass proposals on parades, flags and the past has undermined politics and created tensions between political parties and the two main communities, Archbishop Eamon Martin has said.

Dr Martin, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, spoke of his frustration at the mired Haass process and his concern that the failure of politicians to grasp the proposals of US diplomat Dr Richard Haass was tarnishing the image of Northern Ireland.

“While Dr Haass has remained utterly diplomatic and professional in his response, do we really believe that rejecting the proposals of a man of such international standing and integrity does not damage our reputation internationally, or the case for inward investment?” he asked.

Speaking to a predominantly Protestant audience in the Ballymena Borough Church Members’ Forum tonight, Dr Martin said that as a “realistic optimist” he preferred to focus on the huge amount that has already been achieved in the peace process.

“This is not to say, however, that I am not sometimes frustrated that progress often appears painstakingly slow. Like many others, I think: isn’t it a pity that our politicians were unable to reach a clear agreement after months in the Haass talks?” added Dr Martin who in August is due to take over from Cardinal Sean Brady as Catholic primate.

While Haass is stalled because of not clearly defined unionist opposition to some of its proposals Dr Haass did not engage in apportioning specific blame. He warned however that politicians should not be prevented from moving on Haass for party-political reasons or concerns over forthcoming local and European elections.

“Confidence in the ability of politics to resolve difficult problems has been undermined. Trust between the parties and even between whole communities is again being put under strain,” he said.

He said he was “resolute in rejecting the horror of our past with its lies and violence that doomed so many of our youth”.

Dr Martin added, “I welcome the assertion in the final Haass document that everyone in our society ‘was not equally to blame’ for the violent conflict of the Troubles. We should not be afraid to question the creeping narrative that ‘we are all equally to blame’ and to challenge any attempts to ‘revise’ or ‘control’ the narrative about the past. The vast majority of citizens across this island and on all sides of the community rejected paramilitary violence.”

He welcomed the indications from the British and Irish governments that they were ready to invest in any agreement on Haass. “I encourage our politicians to put scaffolding around their areas of agreement and to build on these as quickly as possible,” he said.