Richard Haass’s ‘modest proposal’ challenges parties
Unionist response triggers claims of political grandstanding
Dr Richard Haass in Belfast: The US diplomat, among many ideas, has suggested a single investigative body to deal with Troubles-related killings. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
One senior talks source in a non-Swiftian non-ironical way described Dr Richard Haass’s paper on how to deal with parades, the past and flags as a “modest proposal”.
That didn’t stop First Minister Peter Robinson along with deputy leader Nigel Dodds bringing his talks team – Jeffrey Donaldson, Jonathan Bell and the Rev Mervyn Gibson – to the steps of Parliament Buildings, Stormont to declare, “If I thought that was the final paper, there would be steam coming out of my ears.”
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, paraphrasing an infamous dismissive line from Margaret Thatcher, found there was more “out, out, out” in the Haass paper that was presented to the five main parties than there was “in, in, in”.
Another DUP source predicted to the BBC that in the party’s bilateral meeting with Haass today there would be “paint lifting off the wall”.
This all prompted some sceptical responses about political grandstanding to try to shape the paper closer to the wishes of unionist politicians as the negotiations move to their intensive, earnest phase this week.
Certainly, that seemed to be the view of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who tweeted, “Let’s prevent the paint lifting off the wall, the more excitable amongst us should cool their jets!!”
The US diplomat, among many ideas, has suggested a single investigative body to deal with Troubles-related killings. This body would replace the Historical Enquiries Team and also take on some of the historical work now carried out by the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman. There could be limited immunity offered to certain perpetrators in return for truth-telling.
A new cold cases inquiry team is likely to please PSNI chief constable Matt Baggott as it could allow police concentrate on the present rather than be constantly diverted by the past.
The suggested disbandment of the Parades Commission to be replaced by another body with a stronger mechanism for appealing parades decisions should also provide a degree of comfort to unionists. The idea of a new Northern Ireland flag may not fly but neither can it be totally ruled out.
The proposals may be modest in scale but for that reason may be difficult for the parties to justifiably reject.