Haass proposals unlikely to find favour ahead of Northern Ireland elections

Talks leaders and Government convinced politicians lagging behind public opinion

Pessimism is a normal default position for many commentators in reference to Northern Ireland. And it is no different when it comes to the combined efforts of Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan to find a way forward on parades, flag-flying and how to contend with the Troubles legacy.

Pessimism is a normal default position for many commentators in reference to Northern Ireland. And it is no different when it comes to the combined efforts of Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan to find a way forward on parades, flag-flying and how to contend with the Troubles legacy.

Mon, Jan 13, 2014, 01:13

Pessimism is a normal default position for many commentators in reference to Northern Ireland. And it is no different when it comes to the combined efforts of Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan to find a way forward on parades, flag-flying and how to contend with the Troubles legacy.

The former US special envoy and the Harvard professor talked and listened for the best part of six months to hundreds of groups, parties and individuals and read more than 600 written submissions before chairing intensive talks last month.

Those talks, involving the five parties who comprise the Stormont Executive, broke up in the early hours of New Year’s Eve without a deal. Since then, the parties have gone on their divergent paths.

Sinn Féin and the SDLP have, with reservations, given the Haass-O’Sullivan draft proposals (their seventh such paper) a thumbs-up. The two unionist parties and Alliance, says Haass, have not.

The DUP says it wants an all-party working group to flesh out at least some of the options contained in the proposals document we could call Haass 7. But the Ulster Unionists, after lengthy talks among its 100-member ruling executive, dismissed the Haass-O’Sullivan proposals as “unviable and unacceptable” and called on Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson for a fresh start.

The political atmosphere is charged with recrimination and the situation is, in short, a mess.

If that were not enough, Sinn Féin figures are criticising the unionists, claiming they are being “led by the nose” by the Orange Order and loyalist extremists. But unionists have rebuffed these suggestions. The SDLP is angry with the British government over an alleged hands-off approach, as well as the Ulster Unionists. The Ulster Unionists point accusatory fingers at the Alliance party. The British government, for its part, insists it is up to the parties to find a way forward – and to pay for any new arrangements in the event of such a pact – from current funds.

Haass says the unionist parties and Alliance must explain publicly why they cannot “endorse this agreement”.


Looming elections

It appears any sense of political momentum, the enabling energy behind a deal, is lost. In its place is the sound of a ticking clock counting down to local government and EU elections within six months when the parties go head

to head. Those elections, particularly on the unionist side, will be bitter contests with little sympathy shown.

All the while, Haass and O’Sullivan are keeping watch from the far side of the Atlantic and continue to insist theirs is a worthwhile and workable outline which has the backing of public opinion and would greatly benefit Northern Ireland.

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