Analysis: Belfast Agreement is fragile and can be very quickly disrupted by events

Fresh committment urged by Tánaiste over the past, flags and parades

The Tánaiste said “there may well be a role” for Dr Dr Richard Haass in settling the current stalemate. Photograph:  Paul Faith/PA Wire

The Tánaiste said “there may well be a role” for Dr Dr Richard Haass in settling the current stalemate. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Tue, May 6, 2014, 01:00

In the wake of Gerry Adams’s arrest, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore has called for a renewed commitment from all the Northern parties to settle their differences over the past, flags and parades.

There are two basic questions.

First, can a way be found to bring the parties together in coming weeks in a fresh bid to break the stalemate? That seems possible, even if there are serious hurdles to be crossed first.

But will the jolt of the Adams’s detention and the reaction to it make the substantive task more difficult? That is not in doubt.

Gilmore said a window may open between elections later this month and the loyalist marching season in July.

The Tánaiste also said “there may well be a role” again for Richard Haass, with whom he spoke yesterday by phone.

No deal
The retired American diplomat chaired two rounds of talks late last year but there was no deal. If there was considerable frustration at that state of affairs in Dublin, London and Washington, the situation is a great deal more urgent now.

Within the power-sharing executive itself, the DUP and Sinn Féin were already at loggerheads before the PSNI held Adams for four days of questioning about the abduction, murder and secret burial of Jean McConville in 1972.

It falls to the North’s deputy director of public prosecutions, Pamela Atchison, to decide whether to press charges against Adams, who denies any involvement in the McConville case.

Whatever eventually happens on that front, it all serves to magnify the challenge posed by the past, flags and parades.

Given the potential for strife during marching season, a renewed attempt to confront the riddle was already likely before the PSNI called Adams to Antrim last week.

This was followed by Sinn Féin’s attack on “political” policing and “dark forces” within the PSNI, which added to the strain on the executive itself.

With Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness among the most strident critics within Sinn Féin, the withering counter-attack was led by first minister Peter Robinson.

McGuinness ultimately declared his party supports the PSNI and the Good Friday bodies, but it all served to highlight the fragility of the basic accord and the speed at which it can be disrupted by events.

Thus we now have the prospect of a new political initiative to bring the parties back to the table.


Invited
It is in the way of things now that Haass would have to be invited by the Northern parties themselves, but the impetus is coming at government level. The parties may not be in a mood for immediate talks and they would probably not go there in the middle of an election.

Thus the campaign, for all its rhetoric, may well provide scope to cool off in the aftermath of the arrest and the tensions it stirred.

The view in Dublin is that the Haass proposals, rejected last time out, contain the only viable way out of the morass.

Having tried twice already, it seems likely that Haass himself would return only if there was a meaningful pledge by all parties to seriously engage with a view to a deal.

That could be a while coming.

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