Slugger O'Toole

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#Haass talks D-Day-No Agreement

Mon 30 December 2013, 7:31pm

Well it’s nearly over. After three months of talks and attempted deal Dr. Haass and Prof. O’Sullivan will end their talks on flags, parades and the past.

At the moment we are looking at an announcement of a deal or failure to agree at around midnight. It may well be the latter as Tracey Magee from UTV tweeted just a moment ago these comments from Jeffrey Donaldson

This tweet from Gareth Gordon of the BBC gives a good insight into moving timetables that have been going on throughout the day

At 7.38pm-Jamie Bryson tweeting that he is ‘Contented and pleased there will be no deal done and Haass will head on home.’

At 9pm-Protestant Coalition released a statement

Whilst there we were informed late this afternoon that deals had been agreed on Flags and Parades but regardiing the Past the shinners were holding out for a deal to be made where their border campaign would be scrubbed from the histo…ry books. Truthfully we cannot see the Unionist parties agreeing such a move as this would mean no convictions for the IRA murderers who cleansed the border of many good people over the years without justice being achieved for the victims and their families

 

10.25pm-It will be a very long night

11:10pm-Delays and still all to play for

11:17pm-Something from Sinn Fein now

12:40am-A final draft of proposals has been delievered to the parties.

12:49am-Brian Rowan says the new draft includes list of conflict era themes to be examined

1:30am-Reports that there will be another hour of talks.

Result-Talks have ended without agreement. The deal has won broad support from Sinn Fein but there were still too many remaining areas of conflict for parties like the DUP.

So what did I learn tonight? Effectively nothing changed from 7pm-see Tracey Magee’s tweet for Unionists to agree a deal. Jamie Bryson was actually accurate as to how things would pan out and that I bone I asked to be thrown was more like brick to the head.

Is anybody to blame for the talks not working or was it just a farce to begin with?

 

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Comments (124)

  1. sherdy (profile) says:

    Many people have spoken of Peter Robinson’s political skills but yet wonder how our latest attempts at a deal have crumbled. But has Peter lost his touch?
    The DUP ‘negotiating’ team has been led by Wee Jeff and Big Merv, and surprise, surprise they kept to the DUP ‘never, never, never’ mantra.
    So if any blame is to be apportioned Pete has two prime candidates, and as yet, nobody is pointing the finger at him.
    He well remembers how Wee Jeff jumped ship when supposedly negotiating on Trimble’s behalf, so has never trusted him. Therefore it would be little loss to the party if a sacrificial head was to be handed up on a platter.
    He has never had a comfortable association with the OO, despite using it often enough for political gain – well, that’s what politicians do.
    But he does not appreciate being shackled to them hand and foot, so if Big Merv can drop himself in the manure, even if that task requires some assistance. then Pete will feel he has more freedom to act – even to the extent of pleasing Westminster by doing a deal ‘for God and Ulster’.
    So if one of our politicians turns out to have a brain which can achieve something of benefit to the whole population, well and good.
    We might have to wait a while for a happy new year, but even if it happens in 2015 or 2016, it will be worth the wait.

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  2. Charles_Gould (profile) says:

    Interesting discussion Sherdy.

    I see that Peter Robinson this afternoon has made positive noises. He is saying Haass is not a failure and represents very useful progress – a kind of discussion paper for parties to consider and think about.

    What do you think?
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  3. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    DC,

    The lawyer saying that it is “prima facie lawful” is not the same as saying that it is lawful.

    I am not sure how I can make this any simpler. In the part of the EQIA I quoted the legal advice indicates that a tribunal could rule against the flag being flown every day.

    Because of this one statement, any councillor who fails to act on this legal advice would be liable in the event – however likely or unlikely – of a tribunal case being taken and the council being found guilty of failing to maintain a neutral workplace.

    That is a risk that is deemed too high to take as the costs are significant. As I have pointed out at length already, this is exactly why unionists voted to implement designated days in other councils. Because they would get prosecuted if they didn’t.

    This is why Billy Hutchinson’s threat of legal action against the council went nowhere. There is no lawyer who will advise you that nothing bad will happen if you fly the flag 365 days a year.

    If Belfast had a unionist majority on the council the unionists would have been legally compelled by this legal advice to implement designated days there too. Their opposition to designated days in Belfast only flows directly from the fact that as a minority their votes are ultimately not what counts. A bit like those minority MPs who used to vote against MP salary increases in Westminister knowing that the majority vote would carry them through anyway.

    Joe,

    It is unlikely that nationalists could get away with flying the tricolour on anything but a small number of days in the year, eg St Patrick’s. If they flew it on any other days without being able to show a clear reason for doing so they would be at risk of legal action because they would be failing to maintain a neutral workplace.

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  4. Republic of Connaught (profile) says:

    Charles:

    “I see that Peter Robinson this afternoon has made positive noises. He is saying Haass is not a failure and represents very useful progress – a kind of discussion paper for parties to consider and think about.”

    I’m sure everyone can guess what Haass thinks of Peter Robinson, the man who deprived Haass of a ‘success’ on his political CV which would have gone down well in American circles. Robinson will try to suck up a little now, of course, after essentially wasting their time for six months despite most natives sensing all along the DUP would fail to deliver.

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  5. DC (profile) says:

    Comrade

    The only person you are convincing is yourself and I mean that seriously.

    If the barrister says it is prima facie lawful and cites low risks on both counts of fair employment and service provision then the read across is that it was pretty much safe and sound to keep the flag flying 365 days a year not the other way round.

    The barrister also concluded as I have stated elsewhere that there is no correct legal answer to flag flying and on that basis no legal risk to councillors or to the council for that matter given the tradition and context of the union flag in Belfast. Flying the tricolour would not be a legitimate policy aim for Belfast council for instance.

    It has become apparently clear that designated days is only used to reduce and never to produce the union flag and should be ignored on that basis.

    The councils that took the union flag down altogether did so – i imagine – prior to equality legislation and therefore with the decision no longer live and in the past do not have to answer to EQIAs as I am sure they believe the matter is done and dusted and away to hell with designated days. In contrast, today, where the union flag remains EQIAs etc appear to be used to take union flags down and never the other way round to put them up, due to those councils not flying the flag at all having taken that decision prior to equality law, I think.

    On that reading from a legal point of view there is next to no chance a county court or tribunal would legitimise a somewhat one sided if not bigoted policy that tends to work one way to reduce and never to produce the union flag and a county court is not going to legitimise a political decision of a particular council, especially while other councils do absolutely fck all in relation to designated days.

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  6. DC (profile) says:

    And of course the EQIA concerning BCH and the union flag came back in favour of keeping things as they were!!!

    Although you might believe it was hijacked by unionists, but as john o’dowd would say So What?!

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  7. Greenflag (profile) says:

    “The only person you are convincing is yourself and I mean that seriously”

    Comrade Stalin has me convinced ::) Anybody who seriously maintains that neutrality is bigotry lost the argument a long time ago .

    Orwell should be alive so he could tag on your ‘Neutrality is Bigotry ‘ to War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength .

    I think I prefer War is Stupid , Slavery is also Stupid and Political Unionism in Ireland beats the former two by a country mile :(

    It’s hopeless and I mean that seriously !

    .

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  8. DC (profile) says:

    Neutrality is of course bigotry, neutrality is no flag.

    I would have more respect for nationalists if their councillors put the union flag up – left it well alone – and at least tried putting up the tricolour up if that’s what they want; but please don’t ground the union flag in the process. Remove does not improve. It’s not my fault there is no legitimate policy aim to secure the flying of the tricolour at council while N Ireland remains within the UK, there might party political aims but no legitimate aim for the council itself in doing that not while Sterling is going into the councillors pockets.

    And yes – of course it is bigoted – you do realise the union flag NEVER flies that indicates intolerance and is an utterly bigoted piece of work by nationalist councillors who should actually know better.

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  9. DC (profile) says:

    And the reason why no tribunal or county court is going to take action against the *official* flying of the official national flag – 365 days or otherwise – is that there is no detriment to the person complaining in the context of N Ireland being a part of the UK, whereas trickler flying is making a political statement but the constitutional flag isn’t as it is the official flag.

    There is no detriment because as John Hume said you can’t eat a flag!

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  10. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    DC,

    then the read across is that it was pretty much safe and sound to keep the flag flying 365 days a year not the other way round.

    How can a statement from the barrister saying that a tribunal could find against 365 day flags, be taken to mean that is is “pretty much safe and sound” to keep doing it ?

    Are you saying that a barrister at law told you that you could be faced with a £50,000 bill for legal costs and compensation if you did not cease a particular action, you would consider yourself on safe ground ?!??

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  11. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Neutrality is of course bigotry, neutrality is no flag.

    Unionism is never going to progress if it insists on rewriting the Queen’s English to suit itself.

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  12. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    DC:

    And the reason why no tribunal or county court is going to take action against the *official* flying of the official national flag – 365 days or otherwise is that there is no detriment to the person complaining in the context of N Ireland being a part of the UK,

    I’m not sure whether you have some sort of difficulty with basic comprehension DC (which in turn makes it very difficult for me to take your opinion on legal matters seriously), but in the perhaps-vain hope that you don’t I will repeat the legal opinion from the document which you introduced into this discussion:

    “It is difficult to see how the flying of the Union flag on the exterior of Council
    buildings would be likely to have an intimidatory or chilling effect on persons
    working within the buildings – although a tribunal could conclude that it had
    that effect

    A tribunal is unlikely to fault the Council for flying the Union flag at City Hall
    on designated flag days
    – since this would recognise the City Hall’s place as
    the administrative headquarters of this body of local government, accord
    with the approach at government buildings generally and also accord with
    the approach adopted at a number of councils in Great Britain

    On the contrary, the tribunal would require the flying of the Union flag more
    often than on designated flag days to be justified; and the explanation of
    simple ‘custom and practice’ may not be regarded as satisfactory.

    The barrister is saying in language which is as plain as day that a tribunal could conclude that flying the flag on a number of days greater than the 18 designated days for reasons other than “simple custom and practice” is not satisfactory.

    I’ve broken this down for you. Can you please explain to me how anyone of sound mind could possibly take this to mean that no tribunal will take action against flying the flag for 365 days ?

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  13. DC (profile) says:

    Yeah ‘could’, but all were ‘low risk’ and ‘lower still’.

    We are not running a nuclear power station here, low risk and even lower still is absolutely fine.

    I think a decent lawyer could now easily point out the above workings of designated days in that the law’s an ass if it decides a detriment has happened in some way, esp the way designated days is being used to remove and reduce the flag in councils that still fly the flag and the policy has no corresponding impact on those that don’t fly it at all.

    Scoffield was brought in and he gave the all clear but then another lawyer was brought in after him and started pettifogging on Scoffield’s ‘low risk and even lower still’ to try and spook the council, to play up the low risks.

    Unfortunately the equality process in general needs looked at again if all designated days can do is remove the flag or greatly reduce it by 95% in Unionist areas but yet apparently have no impact in Nationalist ones in that it can not produce designated days in Nationalist ones. That is one sided.

    And it is bigotry by not displaying it. Nationalists should if they so wish try and get the tricolour up without having to take the union flag down.

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  14. Neil (profile) says:

    95% in Unionist areas

    It’s not a Unionist area. This has been pointed out more than once.

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  15. Neil (profile) says:

    It’ll always be a Unionist area to you DC. WATP and so on.

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  16. DC (profile) says:

    Technically Neil they are all Unionist councils as each and everyone remains in the UK, have a nice day!

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  17. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    DC

    Yeah ‘could’, but all were ‘low risk’ and ‘lower still’.

    You are quoting selectively again DC. “low risk” and “lower still” are not the same as zero risk, but in any case there are two legal opinions given in the EQIA. Mr Hanna QC is quoted :

    There is a “definite risk” that the flying of the Union flag at the City Hall on
    days other than designated flag days, and particularly every day of the year,
    could be held to infringe the concept of a neutral working environment,
    contrary to article 19 of FETO.

    Give it up. Concede that you are talking out of your arse.

    We are not running a nuclear power station here, low risk and even lower still is absolutely fine.

    It’s not a nuclear power station, no. It’s a matter of a five-figure sum. The legal costs for employment tribunals would exceed £50K depending on how long the litigation proceeded for. I’m not sure of what the compensation awarded could be; I know there are caps of £25K for things like unfair dismissal.

    That is a lot of money. If you were placed in the position where flying the flag 365 days a year could lead to a risk of a financial cost to yourself, you would vote against it. I’m reasonably sure you don’t have the money to fund losing a legal case.

    I think a decent lawyer could now easily point out the above workings of designated days in that the law’s an ass if it decides a detriment has happened in some way,

    Your opinion is academic since you are not the one facing the prospect of serious financial loss if you are wrong. I would point out once again that no Unionist councillor with the power to actually do so in Lisburn or Craigavon has to keep 365 day flags in place.

    esp the way designated days is being used to remove and reduce the flag in councils that still fly the flag and the policy has no corresponding impact on those that don’t fly it at all.

    Yes. That is because nobody accepts that the absence of the flag amounts to discrimination. You would have to demonstrate in court that the flag being missing makes you feel intimidated in your workplace. Considering that no workplaces with the exception of government buildings can legally fly any kind of flag all I can say is – best of luck. Billy Hutchinson will be happy, I’m sure, to point you to a few lawyers who can help.

    Another quote from the EQIA:

    Plainly, however, there are some options which are likely to be less open to
    the risk of successful legal challenge in a discrimination claim than others. In
    that sense, I agree with the previous advice that the flying of the Union flag
    at City Hall on a restricted number of days is likely to be legally ‘safer’ than
    the present policy
    and very unlikely to give rise to a successful discrimination

    [..]

    The use of no flag or the use of a civic or ‘neutral’ flag is also
    extremely unlikely, in my opinion, to be open to successful legal challenge

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  18. Comrade Stalin[9.44] The refusal of Robinson to ‘lead’ was predictable and as Newton Emerson pointed out in the IN column yesterday, the DUP had already accepted a code of conduct to be imposed on OO, the difference now being the proximity to two election this spring. The DUP are at the same mindset today as the unionist party was 45 yeqars ago tomorrow on Burntollet anniversary. They still hanker after those days.

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  19. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    Daniel, yeah.

    The DUP mindset, also to be found in DC’s contributions above, is a combination of denying reality and actively misleading the people they represent into believing that they can do whatever they like. By refusing to confront this reality they simply store more problems up for themselves in the future.

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  20. David Crookes (profile) says:

    Yes, CS. More or less in the name of the Troubles, these elderly scowlers are building a thoroughly rotten future for young people who have nothing whatever to do with the Troubles.

    It’s funny. They can accept some changes in modern life with great enthusiasm. I mean to say, some of them have achieved a certain species of fluency on social media.

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  21. DC (profile) says:

    Comrade

    Your analysis is affected by your membership of the Alliance, you are partisan.

    Whereas mine is of good quality, good analytical rigour that is derived from the condition of being impartial.

    There is no legal way to fly a flag from council therefore the legal risk remains low.

    The QC you mention dates back to 2002 or 2004, Scoffied was brought in by the council to advise back in Nov 2011, SF weren’t happy about this and employed their own QC who penned a pettifogging letter on behalf of SF in March 2012, no doubt written in a dark miserable corner of the bar library.

    Anyhow, below I have focused on the summary and conclusion to cut through the crap as summaries and conclusions are very helpful, so let’s recap on Scoffield:

    -I have a concern that there may be a tendency to ‘over-legalise’ ***what is essentially a
    political question.***

    -Drawing all of these strands together, my views can be summarised as follows:

    The present policy of flying the Union flag every day at City Hall is prima facie lawful. There is a risk of this being successfully challenged in a discrimination claim by an employee of the Council but I consider this risk to be low. I also consider the risk of a successful discrimination claim in the County Court from a member of the public who uses services provided at City Hall to be lower still.

    -CONCLUSION

    44.
    I recognise that the issues addressed in these advices are politically sensitive. As I hope I have clearly expressed above, whilst the Council is right to be concerned about the risk of potential claims or challenges, and whilst it is proper for legal advice to be sought in relation to these issues, there is no ‘correct’ legal answer to the question of how and when a district council should display the Union flag.

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  22. Comrade Stalin (profile) says:

    DC,

    Whereas mine is of good quality, good analytical rigour that is derived from the condition of being impartial.

    You’re not impartial, you big eejit. All you’re doing now is ignoring the parts I quoted at you and falling back on the parts that you think support your argument. Quite why you think quoting those parts back at me again is going to have any impact here makes no sense to me.

    I say once again, it’s all very well cherrypicking the legal opinions in the EQIA like you are doing. But if you stand to face a significant financial loss in the event of your cherrypicking coming out wrong, you will take a defensive stance. And guess what ? That is what every single unionist councillor who has ever received this legal advice has done in the councils where their vote mattered. QED.

    The QC you mention dates back to 2002 or 2004,

    Hanna, yes. The QC whose opinion you are systematically ignoring because he doesn’t support your argument.

    Scoffied was brought in by the council to advise back in Nov 2011,

    Yup, he’s the guy you’re quoting selectively in the belief that he supports your arguments. Interestingly, he wrote :

    I provide some further comments on the legal position below, which are necessarily
    limited given the comprehensive nature of Mr Hanna QC’s advice, with which I agree
    in large measure, and which holds good given the absence of any particularly
    significant legal developments in the meantime.

    SF weren’t happy about this and employed their own QC who penned a pettifogging letter on behalf of SF in March 2012, no doubt written in a dark miserable corner of the bar library.

    So what ? We are dealing with the opinion of the two QCs mentioned in the EQIA. As I already quoted to you above, Hanna was saying ten years ago that there were legal risks

    Furthermore, you haven’t answered any of my questions. Specifically, if the legal position is as you say it is :-

    - why did unionists in Lisburn and Craigavon vote to take the flag down some years ago and why, despite saying that they would restore 365 day flags in those councils – did they quietly back away from doing so a few months ago ?

    - Why did the DUP – who are on the record as saying they opposed the implementation of designated days in Lisburn – abstain on the vote there instead of voting against ? (had they voted “no” instead of abstaining, the motion would have been blocked; instead it went ahead on UUP and APNI votes).

    All of this supports the reality which is that 365 day flags are theoretically legally unsustainable.

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  23. Kevsterino (profile) says:

    To say that flying the Union flag every day is ‘prima facie’ legal does not mean that flying the Union flag every day is a legally safe decision for a city council. In fact, it implies the opposite.

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  24. DC (profile) says:

    Kev – did you not read the rest of the paragraph – low risk and lower still.

    I just used the summaries and conclusion as it cuts to the chase and boils it down as ‘no correct legal’ answer, it’s hard to draw definite legal risks from that, which is why SF followed up with their own QC as part of their submission in March 2012 to try and beef up the risks.

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