Haass had basic flaws. It’s time for the two governments to step up to the plate

It was in its way encouraging that the Assembly parties themselves launched the Haass process but they seem to have bitten off more than they could chew. They appear to have gone into the high pressure phase without clear ideas of how to reach goals other than muddling through. So far we haven’t heard of any back channels or talks on the margin where so often  deals get done, or arm twisting from  big brothers or sisters.  Pressured negotiations worked before, on Good Friday and at St Andrews, so why not now?  For a host of reasons. Try a couple.  To encourage fresh evidence, which do you go for, limited immunity or legal penalty? Or is it the latter if they former fails? Or neither? This is a technical as well as a political question. Where was the expertise to help answer it?  Then there are fundamental political questions such as, how much clout do the parties have on the ground? With the main paramilitaries stood down who can shoehorn veterans and the newly unruly into cooperating? Did Sinn Fein offer to try? Did the Unionist parties and Alliance offer to encourage police officers to join the truth recovery process? If so they’ve kept it quiet so far. And who in the absence of the British government could speak for MI5, the Army and what passed for political strategy during the long years of direct rule?

It seems clear already that the whole process was too narrowly concentrated on the pressure points without the means of solving them. That requires a broader-based cast, pressure from outside and a sight of a bigger picture than who did what to whom, the question which will in most cases will anyway fail to get a clear answer.

Brian Rowan’s report in the Belfast Telegraph ( 0ne of few with decent content)  shows how unlikely it was that agreement on such a complex agenda of the past could be reached, quite apart from the superficially more urgent matters of flags and parades.

In late drafting in this long process, we watched how quickly things could appear and disappear from the script.

For instance, within the proposed information retrieval process there is a plan at some point to look at themes and patterns.

We read a list of these in draft five of the document at the weekend:

  • Alleged collusion between UK and loyalist forces, and between the      Republic of Ireland and PIRA;

  • Alleged ethnic cleansing in border regions and interface      neighbourhoods;

  • An alleged UK shoot-to-kill policy;

  • Detention without trial and alleged mistreatment of prisoners by UK;

  • Reported targeting of off-duty and reservist RUC officers by the  IRA;

  • The degree to which, if at all, the Republic prolonged the conflict by knowingly providing a safe haven to the IRA;

  • Alleged intra-community punishment or enforcement by  paramilitaries;

  • The policy behind the Disappeared;

  • Sources of financing and arms for loyalist and republican   paramilitaries.

We could add plenty to the list: for instance the extent to which paramilitaries were penetrated by informers.  But what is the overall context of these themes and how do they interrelate? What if any is the link between “a Historical Investigations Unit with full investigative powers and, an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval?” These matters of structure and process only become amenable to diplomacy when coherent designs are on the table that the parties are already familiar rather than playing with words in draft after draft .  Final negotiations are essentially about tweaking not fundamentals. Small wonder  they failed.

Apart from a lack of context the other missing element is pressure. It’s time for the two governments to rescue the process by reaching their own views on the Hass agenda  – preferably united – and putting them to the parties. In the end that is what sovereign governments are for, to provide leadership if it is lacking elsewhere. The lesson  of the Hass process is that it is still asking too much of the local parties to arrive at basic solutions on their own.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

  • cynic2

    Isnt there a teensie weensie flawette in tour case?

    As you say juts look at the list of whats missing. No collusion between PIRA members and the Security Forces. Why was that left out? Too many still on the payroll perhaps?

    Then there is the problem of how you do it. FIne words but no buttered parsnips. For example, one party has a leader who has had a total mind blank. He wasn’t there he says, no sirree.

    So how do you enforce this when people ‘plead the fifth’? So in the end you finish up with only state players participating – which is just what SF want. Whats why this was always lop sided and was never a runner

  • streetlegal

    Brian Rowan makes me laugh. Only yesterday he was standing in front of that hotel predicting an agreement. He wasn’t the only one who got it wrong either. Mark Devenport called it wrong too. Such piss-poor reporting has always been a big part of the problem here.

  • David Crookes

    Bravo, streetlegal. Let’s bring back a pillory for members of the Harold Camping School of Prophecy.

    Must say the local BBC site can be very slow to update itself. If I’m following some tale-in-progress hour by hour, I usually find out far more on Slugger.

  • willieric

    why not referendas?

  • David Crookes

    Because if the nasties lost they would refuse to be bound by the result. We are contending with people who don’t do democracy. That’s why we need HMG to say catch a grip of yourselves or we’ll thump you, hard.

  • sherdy

    I think one paragraph has been left out:
    ‘The degree to which, if at all, the UK prolonged the conflict, by knowingly providing a safe haven to the UVF, UDA, LVF, Red Hand Commando, RUC and UDR.’

  • Raymonds Back

    Let’s show some gratitude – and pity – to dr Haass and Professor O’ Sullivan for having to spend so long here listening to bit players from the Nolan Show. [Does anyone else find it strange that our politicians allow a shock-jock show to set the agenda and are willing to give it credence by regularly phoning in?]

    I am glad these talks failed as they should never have been started in the first place: they were a response to the mob rule of flag-protestors illegally blocking streets (they fact that they may sometimes do it peacefully does not stop the act being illegal). And governments, even provincial backwater ones, should not respond to mob rule.

    It needs to be explained to unionists that equality for Catholics cannot be termed a concession by unionists. Equality is simply just what should be the case. Someone should spell out in detail what equality for Catholics means in Northern Ireland, and explain to unionists that that is the starting (and finishing) point for negotiations, not the state of affairs at it has historically been in Northern Ireland.

    And charging the Orange Order for any policing of their marches would be a progressive step too.

  • David Crookes

    Good-oh, Raymond, but let’s charge everyone for having to police their marches. Maybe in a hundred years people will get used to the idea that the roads are for vehicles. There isn’t one single march of any species whose abolition would permanently impoverish the people who live in NI. A march says STOP YOUR LIFE AND LOOK AT US. Why should we? Ever?

    I salute all the pigeon clubs and bowling clubs which have survived miraculously without organizing marches.

  • USA

    I have to agree with the last 3 comments from Sherdy, Raymond’s Back and David Crookes. Spot on folks.

  • sherdy

    Ray, – You suggest gratitude and pity for the Doc and Prof for the work they tried to do. But had they had the wit their titles suggest would they not have consulted with Mitchell or Soderberg – maybe their advice would have been to use John Taylor’s 40foot pole.
    Of course you are right about our politicians’ deference to the shock-jock who shames, embarrasses and bullies them into coming on to his show to be ridiculed.
    As a BBC man he is supposed to be impartial, but when he gets on one of his hobby horses, such as the abortion question, he brings someone like Bernie Smyth on to television just to try to belittle her, using the views of the audience to back up his own view.
    Or like the night of the TV debate on the flegs, when he packed the audience with protesters. What sort of impartiality was that?
    On the question of the OO paying for having their marches policed and protected, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of Big Merv allowing Wee Jeff to vote in favour of that.Financial considerations seem to be closer to his religious tenets than any of his professed Christianity.
    Maybe its an off-the-wall idea, but how would it work if the different Orange lodges invited residents of the areas through which they intend marching, to join them for an enjoyable day out?
    And could you join an orderly queue to tell me how daft I am, and me stone cold sober while writing this!

  • Morpheus

    1. The Parades Commission given the powers to ban parades for previous breaches of their rulings.
    2. Every single band/lodge/group which intends to take to the roads legally bound to complete their own 11/1 so if things go belly up the PSNI knows who to charge.
    3. New legislation which could result in custodial sentences for leaders of bands/lodges/groups who break PC rulings.
    4. Security deposits to help with policing which are returned if the parade is both peaceful AND lawful – if not they lose the deposit and the right to match there again the next time there is an application
    5. Education process whereby paraders and the protesters meet to show why they want to match, why they have objections and come to a compromise if possible.

    Watch how quickly the trouble-makers are turfed out when the leaders realize they could end up in prison.

  • David Crookes

    “Maybe its an off-the-wall idea, but how would it work if the different Orange lodges invited residents of the areas through which they intend marching, to join them for an enjoyable day out? And could you join an orderly queue to tell me how daft I am, and me stone cold sober while writing this!”

    Sherdy, that is exactly the road that the OO needs to go down. But if the OO refuses to go down it, then we need the five commandments of Morpheus.

    When people refuse to be civilized, you need coercion.