Will the panel of parties now publish their final draft proposals?

While not a surprise, it is still disappointing that the five parties in the Executive – and in particular the big two – who arranged The Panel of Parties in the NI Executive were able to identify three problem areas but were not confident enough to compromise enough to agree a way forward.

Given the distance between DUP and Sinn Fein and their nearest rivals in terms of electoral support, there was surely room for big compromise, for putting themselves in other people’s shoes and applying grace over self-interest. Early tough-talking public comment by some of the political panellists looked like choreography to prepare their supporters for some unpalatable ideas in the final agreement. But hope faded.

And with 45% of voters already avoiding the ballot box, confidence in politics is not high.

Progress was never going to come without large gestures that would alienate some supporters but would be for the good of society. Or at least better for society than grown men eating their Christmas dinner in a caravan at Twaddell Avenue waiting for their July parade to be allowed to finish. Better for society than tatty flags of all colours hanging from lampposts and being burnt on commemorative bonfires.

Failure to agree at the end of a self-convened process looks like a failure of intransigent and carve-up politics to step forward… and smells of some unionist leaders wanting to be able to say “we held out longer and got a better deal”.

In the early morning press conference, Richard Haass said it was “surprising” that they had made most progress around “the past” given that this was the area people were most sceptical about success being possible before the intensive talks started.

The follow-up talks will have less urgency and will now drag on for months if not years. I doubt that it is in the interests of parties to resolve the issues one at a time without making it a single bottle of mixed bitter and sweet pills to take to the electorate. Any side deals on language and equality/rights may be harder to conclude when the balancing scales are in public view.

Dr Haass urged Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to make the details of the final document public so people could make up their own minds. (The News Letter)

The hundreds of organisations that made submissions to the Haass/O’Sullivan talks will be keen to see how their proposals and principles are reflected in the political thinking. Publishing the draft isn’t without risk, as there may be criticism of the trauma centre proposals which some in the victims sector will see as unnecessary and counterproductive.

Update – it’s now been published.

Meghan O’Sullivan and Richard Haass have left the building flown out of Northern Ireland.

NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has offered to pick up the reins, recognising that “significant progress has been made” and saying:

It is important to build on this and continue to seek agreement in areas that continue to be a focus for tension and division within society. I welcome the suggestion by Dr Haass that the parties should now lose no time in getting together to see how they can most constructively take things forward. I would encourage them to maintain the momentum that their efforts, working with the Haass team, has created. For our part the UK Government will look at how we can best facilitate this.

The parties now have two weeks before the next plenary session of the Assembly. A lot of progress could unravel before then.

Some other reactions:

  • Jeff Peel calls it “shambolic” and calls for the Secretary of State to intervene.
  • NI21’s John McCallister said “no leadership has been shown and the Haass five have only succeeded in creating new theatres for disparity and a continued distraction from the reality of governing Northern Ireland’s present”.
  • The Workers Party‘s analysis is that “Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan have done little more than propose new ways of managing division – not overcoming it”.
  • Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis said: “It is now essential the parties return to these issues as a matter of urgency in the new year supported by the full engagement of the UK and Irish Governments. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want to see their political leaders make the compromises necessary to overcome outstanding differences”.
  • Green Party’s Steven Agnew noted the “wide remit … within a narrow time frame” but was “disappointed with the abject failure … to reach a workable agreement”. He added: “The task they were charged with was to put the good of the people of Northern Ireland at the centre of negotiations. However, it appears that for some, the out-dated mind-set of serving ‘their communities’ has been a block to meaningful progress. This is the same failure of political leadership and unwillingness to find common ground which is played out within the Assembly structure on a daily basis”.

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  • Zig70

    If it wasn’t a rush job then I’d think a referendum was a good idea. It would be interesting to see if the atomised silent majority that is unusually noisy about these things can pull together. Let’s see the drafts, they are working for us after all.

  • boondock

    There are too many variables to try and package this into a referendum. The whole thing really was a pantomine, no sane person expected a deal especially with elections in a few months but as usual Unionism fecked up the PR side show and just look like the uncompromising bigots that they always will. I mean you have wee Jeffrey as cheif negotiater the same guy who couldnt even stick around for the GFA

  • boondock

    Oh and back on topic Haass should personally hand over every single draft to the media so we can all see just how petty our politicians are.

  • Charles_Gould

    Might be best as a referendum process requiring a super-majority.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    I do think the people should have the ultimate say and a vote would give any deal legitimacy (a la GFA). Problem with a straight referendum though is the document will in reality need majority support within *both* communities. That the GFA only just scraped a unionist majority caused problems for several years. For any deal on the past, parades and flags to be effective, it probably needs to command more support within unionism than the GFA did.

  • Charles_Gould

    One of the items that was discussed – a “code of conduct” for parades is I think a very good idea. To me the focus on parades should be more on behaviour and not so much on routes.

  • Mainland Ulsterman

    Agreed Charles on the code of conduct.

    The one heartening thing is we seem to be close to some kind of agreed way of dealing with the past. I have no idea what it is, but if we can deal with that, it could be transformative. In my view it’s anger at the Troubles and how they have been subsequently spun that makes parades and flags such hard issues – both are a way for unionists to show their unhappiness with the wrongs done to them.

    If some amends can start to made on dealing with the past – which will need a substantial change of heart from SF, the main barrier to progress here – it could have a very positive knock-on effect on how relaxed people feel around flags and parades – and how willing mainstream unionist leaders are to overrule the hardliners on those issues.

  • We al ready have a Code of Conduct. It is attached to each Parades Commission Determination and is supposed to be made known to everyone taking part in a parade. It is routinely broken. What is needed is enforcement.

  • SK

    “SF, the main barrier to progress here ”

    “[Unionist] unhappiness with the wrongs done to them.”


    Haass talks collapse because of unionist intransigence, yet republicans are still the main barriers to progress. More Catholics than Protestants are killed during the troubles, yet unionists insist upon promoting this warped hierarchy where they are to be considered the conflict’s primary victims.

    I marvel at the logical hoops that some people must have to jump through to justify this stuff in their own heads

  • Reader

    SK: More Catholics than Protestants are killed during the troubles,
    Aren’t you making unlikely assumptions about the beliefs of the hundreds of dead Brits (and others)?
    Or is it just that you refuse to count dead Brits at all? (which would also be an issue, as many of us *will* count them.)
    A related issue is that you seem to be a bit vague on the hierarchy of victims issue – generally it’s taken to mean that some individual lives are valued more highly than others. Most people can’t avoid doing that, but we may expect that policy won’t do any such thing. But you seem to be ready to turn it into a body count.

  • SK


    Both sides are in the gutter as far as I’m concerned. If the prospect of the troubles being reduced to a matter of counting bodies appalls you, then I would suggest you direct your ire at the likes of Mainland Ulsterman. You’ve seen the arguments yourself. His attempts to bolster the “themmuns are to blame” narrative by doling out tribal murder statistics like some kind of ghoulish Tim Gudgin achieves nothing.

  • RG Cuan

    The first paragraph of this article is totally inaccurate.

    The “five parties in the Executive” did not fail to reach a compromise or to agree to the Haass proposals, it was only the pro-Union parties who said no.

    Both pro-Ireland parties have stated they agreed to Haass’s compromise. It’s the obstinacy of certain unionists that once again holds up the show for the rest of us.

  • > The first paragraph of this article is totally inaccurate.

    RG Cuan – I disagree. Collectively, the *panel* of the (five) parties of the NI Executive failed to agree among themselves.

    I imagine any reheating of the proposals will see nationalists and Alliance join unionist parties in making amendments!

  • For completeness … the final draft Haass/O’Sullivan agreement has been published on the NI Executive website.

  • Reader

    RG Cuan: Both pro-Ireland parties have stated they agreed to Haass’s compromise. It’s the obstinacy of certain unionists that once again holds up the show for the rest of us.
    And if Haass had produced another (seventh? eighth?) draft to accommodate the unionist objections, then the nationalists (most likely SF) would have rejected it.
    Then if Haass had produced a further draft to accommodate the nationalist objections, the unionists would have rejected that. And so on ad-infinitum.
    It was a game of pass the parcel – and the music stopped.
    The only useful thing to do at this point is to look through the document and each decide for ourselves what is essential / acceptable / painful / intolerable. Then we can all come to our own conclusions; probably to the effect that many of our local politicians are a load of short sighted numpties in hock to unsavoury elements with bad consciences and/or poor impulse control.