After Haass, the apolitical ministerial toboggan ride continues…

It’s worth remembering what the Haass talks were, and what they weren’t.  This is not as easy as it may seem since the media have been portraying it has some sort of GFA3 event. In fact Dr Haass and Professor O’Sullivan is all there was: a small if perfectly formed gang of two three (plus Charles Landlow) with no support, no back up and no informed [local] advisors to tell them where the hidden trap doors where.

We should probably view Haass for what it actually was: an iteration of OFMdFM’s ill-starred Together: Building a United Community. They bundled all the things the DUP and Sinn Fein could not agree on and drew the UUP, APNI and the SDLP into a series of meetings which ultimately also failed to agree an advance on anything.

Political expectations were at most that Dr Haass could offer OFMdFM some clever new ideas for the basis of agreement. But in practice running it through committee often meant taking a good idea, like giving the new body tasked with investigating the past actual powers of investigation (something the HET never had) and then killing it by taking it away from the police and making it report to the politician dominated Policing Board.

Accounts vary of how the discussions went behind locked doors, but according to one insider Alex Attwood played blinder on promoting themed investigations of the past, using the same single transferable speech. The insider attributed to Attwood, rather than Sinn Fein, the prospering of themes through seven drafts (one mention in draft 2, and 22 by draft 7).  What political use that is to the SDLP is something of a moot point: for 80% of the heavy lifting, they’ll be lucky to acquire a 10% pay off.

There are also reports that Dr Haass was dismayed with the Alliance party’s rejection of the whole deal, not least since they had played a fairly voluble role in the hammering out of several suggestions, including one for “licensing of flag and emblem displays in public space” which made a fleeting appearance in draft 2 but was gone by draft 3.

Mike Nesbitt and the UUP had been doing okay. Keeping his distance, with his team of grey beards seemingly aware that escape from OFMdFM’s blame trap would be the key marker of success. But once he’d told the media circus what he thought they wanted to hear (ie that their Christmases had not been spoiled for no good reason) that they were 90% of the way to a deal, no one wanted to hear his views on the dysfunctional machinations of the semi detached polit bureau.

Meanwhile even though there is no deal, both Sinn Fein and the DUP can accurately claim they tried to bring their cabinet colleagues, and they also failed to broker any kind of a functional agreement on the same matters. And guess what today’s headlines are about: Sinn Fein and DUP at odds over way ahead. Which is, of course, just about where we all came in.

Which mention of the Irish News leads me to Brian Feeney’s nicely acerbic column in which he notes that as Ministers most of the local administration continue to “slide on a toboggan supplied by their civil servants”. He goes on:

If they can’t agree on how to allocate money to the poorest in society, why on earth did anyone imagine they could agree on contentious matters like flags and emblems?

Come to think of it, the very fact that the main parties devoted their longest ever face to face sessions since 2007 to discussing stuff which doesn’t affect the living standards of anyone here is testimony in itself to their failure as politicians.

That was their priority in these times?

Well, quite. But Feeney also pinpoints a key reason for the drift. Haass was, amongst other things, a think in. Why? Because ‘the current crop came into politics without any ideas, plans, local schemes or projects to implement’. There’s only plans they want to block.


  • Mick,
    The whole thing was a giant Squirrel

  • iluvni

    Lucky McGuiness’s vandalism of post primary education wasn’t added to the discussions agenda.

  • “In fact Dr Haass and Professor O’Sullivan is all there was”

    Richard N. Haass ‏@RichardHaass

    Opening of #northernireland all-party talks…w vice-chair Meghan O’Sullivan, research chief Charles Landow

  • son of sam

    “For 80%of the heavy lifting, they’ll be lucky to acquire a 10% pay off”
    Sounds like the same old story for the S D L P. Will voters in the European elections this year reward Attwood for this worthiness ?Dream on!

  • “There are also reports that Dr Haass was dismayed with the Alliance party’s rejection of the whole deal”

    Can anyone provide evidence that APNI rejected the Draft 7 document? Is this it?

  • sherdy

    Poor fools Haass and O’Sullivan thinking they could make any political progress in this cesspit we call NI.
    These talks were never designed to come up with any positive conclusions, just to try to get Robbo off the hook for stasis in our political situation.
    The Orange Order were even given a place at the table so they could directly sabotage any prospects.
    We, the public, should be told in detail who attempted to negotiate and who blocked the progress!

  • “slide on a toboggan supplied by their civil servants”

    Has any relatively impartial research been done on the power-plays involving ministers, special advisers, senior civil servants and other key ‘stakeholders’? We’re dealing with folks who occupy a spectrum from bullies to push-overs.

  • notimetoshine

    At last!

    Political commentators finally waking up and instead of rehashing the Haass talks and all the nonsense about fringe cultural issues identify the dysfunction, apathy and incompetence matters of real governance are treated with by our esteemed local politicians.

    Feeney is right our politicians are without ideas…sometimes I think they are without brains…

  • “… a small if perfectly formed gang of two three (plus Charles Landlow) with no support, no back up and no informed [local] advisors to tell them where the hidden trap doors where.”

    For me, ‘imperfectly’ makes more sense than ‘if perfectly’ in this sentence. The team may well have had local advisers but where would you get such advisers who aren’t also partisan?

  • IrelandNorth

    The Haass/O Sullivan deliberations are a rubics cube exercise in constitutional compromise between the British and/or Irish Isles. A few clicks to the left or right, up or down was tantalisingly within. The golden mean or middle way between independence and integration is autonomy. Since N Ireland, Scotland and Wales are already well along Devolution Road approaching autonomy, one can’t help but wonder if the rest of Ireland were to surrender some sovereignty by reintegrating with N Ireland/Ulster U/NI), whether a new autonomous arrangement would be possible. When the old Soviet Union (USSR/CCCP) broke up, they became a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), before settling for a Russian Federation (RF). a blueprint for the UK/ROI, perhaps.