Richard Haass faces Northern political process going into reverse
Now up to parties to find a way though impasse
“My political opponents (and even some of my own colleagues) find me confrontational and inflexible. Perhaps they are right. Others are much less complimentary.
“Yet those ‘deficiencies’ are the ingredients that fashion an unqualified determination to secure my objectives and I am resolved that we shall complete the process we are engaged in.” So, Robinson after his long summer break asserts he is game for the fight and for staying around for a considerable time yet. Still, his unionist foes see vulnerability. But how will McGuinness, with a large dollop of advice from Gerry Adams, react? Republicans feel Robinson has rubbed their noses in the dirt and there is an appetite for a response in kind. This could include: no Maze reconciliation centre, no overall Maze development.
This has to be played out. Sinn Féin has always lived by the dictum that first “you manage your own constituency” and you don’t get too far ahead of your own people. Therefore, McGuinness may understand Robinson’s dilemma, but whether he will cut him any slack is another matter.
There is also the view that Robinson should have shown more courage and, to quote one former IRA prisoner, not be “dictated to by the TUV’s single Assembly member Jim Allister”. And all this after a long year of sectarian convulsion running from before last Christmas when the decision to limit the flying of the British flag over Belfast City Hall triggered loyalist disorder. That segued neatly into the summer marching season and more protests and trouble. Then the Castlederg parade.
And there Haass has it in a nutshell: flags, parades, and the past, and all the sectarian trauma that goes with them. Some task, but at least he comes with a “can-do” American vigour.
Parades and flags
There is a rather optimistic view that progress can be achieved on parades and flags but that the past will be very difficult. Some progress can be made based on the Eames-Bradley proposals but getting the IRA, loyalist paramilitaries, the police, the British government and MI5 to tell the truth could be too great a challenge.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s commitment that the Government would play its part by addressing unionist perceptions that the State did not do enough to frustrate the IRA may help.
Haass and the parties must make some headway. The North desperately needs a roadmap away from sectarian problems that are centuries old.
Realistically and ultimately that isn’t down to Haass – it’s up to the parties to forge a political and community way forward. But Haass can get things moving. And it is for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to make any Haass-inspired deal work or at least get started ; but for that to happen they need to be getting on.
And right now they’re not.