Meghan O’Sullivan: “how do we make it possible for the others to deliver on the agreement? . . . I don’t know if there was enough of that in the room this time.”

Whilst the Northern Ireland media continue to obsess over digest the parting shot from Richard Haass on the political parties’ failure to agree to his proposals (version 7), the co-chair of those talks, Meghan O’Sullivan, appears to have been delegated the task of addressing the media south of the border[Partitionists! – Ed]  ANYhoo.. In the Irish Times, Dan Keenan’s report includes what is, perhaps, the most revealing comment on the failure to agree.

The final draft was written by herself and Richard Haass, fully aware that the party leaders were thinking of elections later this year. “Everybody has political calculations to make so we tried to be as responsive as conceivable without creating an agreement which no one could sign up to.”

On plans for the parties to take part in a working group in the search for agreement, Prof O’Sullivan said: “Realistically the most fruitful next step would be for the parties when they come together in the working group to declare a timeline under which they plan to resolve outstanding issues and move to expeditious implementation.

“They need to make clear that this working group is not going to be a talking shop, it is . . . going to be a forum to advance the ball.”

The parties could help each other, she insisted. They needed to consider “how do we make it possible for the others to deliver on the agreement? . . . I don’t know if there was enough of that in the room this time.” It was a pity the parties were “focused too much on the trees and not on the forest”. [added emphasis]

That could, indeed, result in imbalanced final proposals…  And, with the BBC continuing to mis-report the DUP leader’s comments as

DUP leader Peter Robinson said unionists needed to reach agreement with
nationalists, not with Richard Haass.

Here’s a reminder of what he actually said,

“It says an awful lot if the two nationalist parties are jumping up and down ready to sign up to a deal but no unionist is prepared to go with it,” said Northern Ireland’s first minister.

“That indicates that it wasn’t a balanced final output, but there are many elements of the Haass proposals that are acceptable.

“We accept the broad architecture that’s laid down there but some of the detail needs to be resolved.”

Mr Robinson added: “The job of Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein or Alasdair McDonnell and the SDLP is not to reach an agreement with Richard Haass, it’s to reach an agreement with unionists.” [added emphasis]

By the way, I wouldn’t expect much detail from the parties in response to Richard Haass’ less than diplomatic request that “[he] would prefer for them to speak and to justify or explain their choices”.  Because my reading of those un-agreed proposals is that the problem for the parties is not necessarily in what is there, but, rather, what is not there to help the various parties to sell the proposals.

And, if you accept that the final proposals were imbalanced, that calls into question the role of the chair/mediator of those talks.

Ostensibly appointed by the DUP and Sinn Féin, as OFMDFM, Richard Haass’ undiplomatic post-talk comments may have seemed more in keeping with someone who had been sent to do a job, and who, therefore, saw his accountability as being to a higher authority than our local administration. [God?! – Ed]  Close enough…

The talks themselves were part of the package announced in May last year, and it wasn’t long before some were speculating about the involvement of the current US administration[That might help explain the frostiness of that US visit… – Ed]

And it might help explain the choice of Richard Haass to chair those talks.  Another former US envoy had also been suggested.  And, as I noted back in November 2012

…it’s worth noting that Richard Haass’ [previous] role here was not without criticism…

And, from the same 2012 post,

His successor, Mitchell Reiss, has been more forthright in his recounting at times.

[Time to call Mitchell in again, then? – Ed]  I’m not sure that some parties would be that enthusiastic…

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