Haass – Larkin unrepentant, Allister is on the attack, but where oh where is the DUP critique?

Now hold on, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet.  Inevitably most early reaction to Haaas is about the overall political verdict without going  much into detail. And you know how we can’t be bothered  to go into detail if we can stick  it into them instead.

But hush!  Jim Allister QC has spoken. People tend to overawed by Jim’s legal expertise. But lawyers are advocates – even when they’re not self -interested  politicians –  and so should be taken with a pinch of salt. Jim naturally assumes the worst and sees political bias where there is not malevolence. Well, you can’t legislate for sentiment. He even objects that politicians should support the law even where they disagree with it – an odd stance for one of Her Majesty’s Counsel. He refuses to take comfort in a stronger rights- based approach to parades, select commemorations and protests which asserts the right to parade and provides for a recourse to the old favourite of judicial review when all else fails. On prosecutions for past crimes Jim deprives us of the benefit of his own expert estimate of the likelihood of these succeeding.

Is there too much political involvement in the proposed new bodies?  Good question, Jim!

On parades, the chair of the Authority for Public Events would be appointed by the NI Judicial Appointments Commission ( NIJAC . Chair: the Lord Chief Justice) and others appointed on merit along trusted and tested lines.

Jim may have a point when he says the key Implementation and Reconciliation Group  may be too front loaded with politicians, even with  the representative selection prescribed. Implementation would of course be basic Executive policy so politicians could hardly be eliminated. But they might be better to follow the Policing Board model  of lay chair and vice chair over a political majority.

Myself I’m stumped to identify half- rational unionist objections

Kicking flags into touch is hardly a reason for breakdown.

A hierarchy of victims?  Jeffrey Donaldson we know is a rhetorical hardliner on that but how can remedial help be denied to anyone whether called victims or not? You’d have thought wouldn’t you  that people committed to putting victims first on any definition would have settled this years ago. Perish the thought that victims are a political football.

Details may start to matter for any unionists and others keen to make progress.

For instance In the proposed outline of a new rights- based parades code, “he avoidance of paramilitary-style clothing at all times during an event” affects former IRA as well as the continuity and real factions and loyalists.  So no berets and dark specs at commemorations and  the inevitable spate of funerals for old warriors who die peacefully in bed?

In the proposals on the past, powers weren’t included  to compel witnesses under penalty which were thought to be skewed against former police officers. This ought to reduce the credibility of the cry of  “one sided justice.”

Objections to an amnesty have  been neatly finessed.  While the proposed  Historical Investigations Unit may review cases and send them to the PPS, anyone wanting to give information to “information retrieval” can do so without an effective  threat of prosecution through  self-incrimination.

There is one fundamental difference with the GFA when nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. Haass is not an interlocking package. Before we bury ourselves in cynicism completely, the onus is on the DUP to state their specific objections and tell us what if anything can proceed.

Hush again.  Jim Allister’s professional leader John Larkin the Attorney General  is unrepentant over his limited immunity call despite the torrent of criticism from politicians.  In reply he even insists that politics is a “ noble” profession.

 Mr Larkin admitted that “views will vary as to the extent to which greater truth is likely” from those who killed even if they are given immunity from prosecution but that it could “create a climate where the truth may be possible to an extent to which it is not possible currently”.

He added: “I firmly believe in the existence of objective truth. I think the problem comes in trying to discover it. It’s not that there are several truths; there is one truth but there are varying perceptions of it.”

*  You can hear John Larkin in the slightly surprising vehicle of Country Ceili on Downtown Radio on Friday (03/01/14) at 9pm

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London