Haass: From the other side of the table

This post originally appeared in the Ultonia blog

Richard Haass has recently done another interview on the failure of the Haass process. In it he blames Unionism for the failure of the talks. This piece is to make the case that the failure of the process lay closer to home than he presents. It lay in the internal dynamics of those talks.

The basis of the article is based on my personal experiences of the Haass talks. My role was primarily the administrative support for the DUP team (hence why in TV footage and press photographers I could be occasionally seen trailing in behind the delegation). This role meant I attended nearly every bilateral the DUP had with Haass and O’Sullivan, other parties and most of the multi-laterals too as well as see each draft of the Haass document. One function was keeping a near verbatim record of these meetings. This function meant I had a duality of role of participant and observer.

Before turning to Haass and his talks strategy I must address did I believe the parties were up for an agreement? Yes, they were. I believe the SDLP, SF and UUP were genuine in attempts to come to an agreement. Alliance were playing another game. There was a meeting in which there was almost a lightbulb moment. In part of the process, the parties were asked to meet in multi-lateral format without the involvement of Haass or O’Sullivan. In a series of exchanges at these meetings, each party came away with the impression that parties were mutually up for an agreement. Then the process moved on in earnest to the Haass drafts.

With Haass my impression was different. There were three areas of concern. First, it was clear he was uncomfortable with the agenda. If you read his books (often co-written with Meghan O’Sullivan) he favours highly complex, wide ranging and inter-related/dependent agreements to resolve conflicts. The limited agenda seemed to grate and he pushed against it. It was too ‘small’ for him. This agenda had been specifically constructed and negotiated. So by pushing against this he was undermining the basis of the talks. The agenda was more of a Unionist success than a Nationalist one so he was undermining himself with Unionism.

Second, in discussions (and later reflected in the drafts) he was only truly intellectually engaged around the past and not parades or flags. This disinterest in key issues for Unionism was not helpful. His colleague, Meghan O’Sullivan did grasp the identity concerns of Unionism better. This was perhaps because she had been the one directly involved in the civic and community engagement part of the process and spent more time here. Interestingly on a small number of occasions Haass silenced interventions by O’Sullivan during multi-laterals, interventions that in my assessment would have been helpful.

Third, Haass is a significant figure on the diplomatic and foreign relations field. These three issues were not going to set the world alight and on occasion he would comment on their smallness. Perspective and challenge are part of the process but it reinforced the sense of disinterest. At the same time major situations were developing in Syria. Places that would be perfect opportunities for his conflict resolution model. He wrote on the topic at the time. He did communicate a sense of frustration he’d ended up in the backwater when big decisions had to be made. The difficulty this contributed too was his desire for product was seen as much as so he could get out of here as it was to produce a quality product.

Beyond this there was the personal. When many hear diplomat they tend to think soft, malleable etc. Haass is an intelligent, formidable and tough figure. In Peter Robinson he got as good as he gave.

There was also the leaking of the early drafts. The general suspicion was this was the UUP (It wasn’t us. The DUP culture is of reluctant leakers. This is based in the belief that if you have an easy culture of leaking then everything flows out not just the advantageous). If it was the UUP, the intention seemed to be to embarrass us with ideas that Unionism didn’t like. However, it actually made our work easier. When Haass had raised them we had stated their unacceptability, unworkability etc and when leaked often the public reaction to them proved our point. Haass was frustrated by this especially as a pet project he was fascinated by didn’t fly.

So as the process began in earnest there was some deterioration in terms of his relationship with Unionism in the talks but not to levels that wholly undermined it. The early drafts had a core structure and a direction of travel as various pieces were removed or added. In the days before Christmas my assessment would have been a deal was possible though not yet in probable territory (although I am one of life’s pessimists). Bi-laterals with UUP, SDLP and SF had progressed reasonably. However, Haass considered more of the changes to the drafts to be in Unionism’s favour and angered we were still fighting him on a number of issues.

This culminated in a distinct shift in strategy. As Christmas day approached a new draft was produced. On reading it my assessment went from possible to nil chance of an agreement before Christmas. It was a break from the previous drafts in content and the result was the Christmas Eve talks were a disaster with the meeting ending without it determined whether or not Haass would return. The new strategy was to create a grouping of Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance with the aim of pressurising Unionism. This critically injured the process in three ways.

First, a negotiation is about trying to ensure the interests of the different parties are sufficiently met. This adoption of a pressurisation strategy reinforced the perception that Haass was more focused on production of product that a product that served sufficiently the needs of the parties. Perhaps Haass’s dealings earlier on the peace process with the UUP made him believe that Unionism buckled under pressure. It was not an approach that was going to work with the DUP. It also reinforced the relationship within the talks between the UUP and DUP. The atmosphere shifted distinctly to us v them as opposed to people seeking an agreement.

Second, Haass had continually said that the talks were between the parties not with him. However, the shift in strategy made that to be a fallacy. Matters that had not been previously raised in bi-laterals appeared in this document. His new strategy effectively created a three party v two party dynamic that essentially killed the bi-laterals between parties.

Third, it also gave Alliance an over-inflated role in the process that proved unhelpful as some within it were playing a different game than trying to reach an agreement. Haass hadn’t picked this up but they too were subject to his anger in the immediate aftermath when they rejected it as well.

At its core, Haass had made a bold shift in terms of his negotiation strategy and targeted one section that his relationship was already uneasy with. It was a move that backfired and failed. He may choose to blame those that his failed strategy was aimed at but perhaps he should consider some more self-reflection.

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  • Zeno

    Marcuse and Bernays seem to me to be making the same mistake. People are not robots, they don’t act as one unit even though most economic theory models and marketing campaigns treat them as if they do.
    Do you think that if the people who devour the junk were deprived of it they would become great artists or songwriters?

  • Zeno

    ” I think he’d have something rather harsh to say about being quoted as saying that Irish Traditional Music is in any way a preserve of SF, etc!!!!!!!!!!!”

    That wasn’t what was quoted. He said that he was shocked that some people wanted to use it as a tool in social engineering or as a weapon in a war of cultural ideology”

  • carl marks

    so what is your solution, we should put up with the KTP bands, the flag waving and sectarian abuse and pretend it isnt happening!
    again the only people getting this subtext are those who somehow want to make people making more than justified complaints Twaddell and OO parades appear as a attack on all protestants,
    you for example seem to be under the opinion that nationalist people are sheep following a SF line because they know no better, in doing this you ignore the long history of sectarian trouble associated with OO parades.
    No sorry not going to wash, if the OO wants respect then it will have to show some to others, and this “it’s all themmuns fault” is getting old

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sorry Zeno, my years around advertising have pretty much proved to me that they are both right about what people in politics and the media think about ordinary people. And its the people in the media who develop and sell the product people buy.

    I think most people can be creative, but when they are relegated to being spectators rather than players this repeated role encodes habits of passivity. Its not that people are naturally robots, its that media culture strives to enforce passivity, and the easier reaction of those consuming it is to go with the flow. That’s the problem I’m fingering. I’d rather that the public were in a situation where they would be freer to develop greater involvement and to actively develop their potential, but that’s not what’s on sale.

    Its the difference between the kind of people encouraged by child centred education and the conventional achievmenet led “carrot and stick” education that’s mainly on offer in the mass education system. This is a big debate, and well of thread, and I doubt we’ll finally agree.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Zeno, go back and look again. Fintan, and I know the man and his work, was talking about a conference, academics, social scientists, music theorists, a single instance event, not about traditional music or musicians in general. I know him and I know the sort of conference he’s talking about, and the sort of people who attend, been there done it. These are the people who think of the arts as something to use to make people share an activity and thereby “foster inclusion”, not as the shear fun of jamming together. Fintan himself is musician to his backbone, an erudite and brilliant musical intellect who knows just about everything about traditional music here, but someone who never, ever looses touch with the primacy of creation.

    The term “cultural ideology” as used here is referring not to regular politics, ie: the polarities of the wee six, as you seem to think, but about the culture debates within sociology, social anthropology and ethnomusicology, and the kind of “social engineering think” that goes on in the academic study of music and society. War is symbolically used, not used in a literal sense. His comments have got nothing at all to do with the idea that SF may or may not have the “copyright” on Irish culture. Read the book, you’ll get a much more interesting analysis of local music and its uses from Fintan.

    “The reason there are no major Unionist Irish Writers,Artists, Musicians could be put down to Sinn Fein and the IRA taking ownership of everything Irish.” I’d recommended Fintan’s book as a serious corrective to that statement, as he shows that the reasons for the rejection of local traditional music and culture by the protestant community is much, much more complex and is integral with a general anti-cultural stance rather than simply reactive.

  • Zeno

    We disagree on peoples ability to be creative. I’ve seen people freed of their shackles and allowed to paint. The results have been awful. My Brother in Law is an artist and during a conversation on what makes an artist/painter he said he believed they saw things in a slightly different way. A difference in visual depth perception if you like. Great musicians are the same. They can feel the music if you know what I mean.
    Me?……….. Leonardo Da Vinci wouldn’t be able to teach me to draw a dog. Hendrix or Segovia couldn’t teach me guitar. I just don’t have it, but I appreciate the people who do.
    Education to me is flawed (I’m sure we will agree on this). The problem as I see it is, it doesn’t teach children how to think. But then again, if everyone started to think, the government would not exist in the format it does.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Zeno, reading what you have just written, I’m thinking that face to face we’d probably be far nearer agreement, but these threads constrict what can be expressed. Here we seem to be swinging to and fro in the discusion, with you saying that I’m commending sources that think of the people as robots at one point and then picking up that I’m saying everyone is creative. Although I’d want to fine tune the robot bit ( While Bernays, authoratively as Freud’s nephew, is saying that people can be easily manipulated by clever marketing men, I’d think that Marcuse is saying that this is something they should be offered means to resist) much of what your saying in the last post I’d agree with, but with a few wee extras.

    The arts have been my life, and both by family and marraige I’m linked (yawn!) to a number of significant 20th century artists. What this told me is that while you are right about artists seeing differently, this is simply the same process that goes on with any profession. A car mechenic for example sees more in a car engine than I do, a mathematician sees sublties in number I cannot, but I could get there in both cases if I were to take the time to learn. I think the arts are the same, and just as a foil fencer develops muscle along the front of his shin from the specailised movements he makes, so I’m trained by my work experiences to look at things in a partucular way. I have to see a film a few times before I exhaust the habit of technically analysing the assembly of the visual montage, the framing of shots, the cutting technique, and the story construction of the shooting script, all elements that I’m seeing on the screen, standing between me and simply watching a movie. With painting, I analyse the composition and the brush technique automatically too, and with advertising I catch something of the thinking going into the campaign. But anyone, anywhere specialising in anything for work will find that this occurs to a greater or lesser degree. For me, every human activity is in essence creative, or potentially so, farming and selling goods from a stall, for example. What I’m concerned about in modern society is the layer of commercialism that is hot wired into everything in life, something that gets between the creativity and the work, and spoils any practitioners simple enjoyment of what they do. No one concerned about meeting debts and morgages every month and having to max out on income to do this has an entire mind fixed on their creativity, which becomes often a seperate “hobby”, not the thrust of their entire living being.

    I’m around anthropologists a lot (family!), and my take is that other societies without a fixation on money dominating every aspect of their culture encourage general creativity throughout the community, something that I remember a degree of even here from the 1960s.

    “But then again, if everyone started to think, the government would not exist in the format it does.” Nor should it ! Any government that claims our loyalty should entirely devote itself to serving that community and should do everything to facilitate the optimum fulfillment in their lives, not simply facilitate the harvesting of their labour in a manner that aborts their potential in the interests of morgage repayments and debt management for an alienating financial system. This is what thins down our experience to teh one dimentionality Marcuse writes of.

  • Zeno

    “Hi Zeno, reading what you have just written, I’m thinking that face to face we’d probably be far nearer agreement”

    We would probably come close to agreement on a lot of subjects. But I am hard to convince.

    You probably agree with Matthew Syed http://www.experttabletennis.com/bounce-by-matthew-syed/ and what he says is fairly convincing, but I do hold that the very best artists and musicians have an innate ability that can’t be taught.

    What you are talking about re mortgages bills etc is really loss of control of your own life. With a job, children and a mortgage you are in effect owned. Your choices become severely limited.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sure Zeno, “But I am hard to convince” and a good thing too, it’s probably why I’d think we’d find a decent amount of common ground (as well as otherwise), as I’ve never been partial to “yes” men.

    Back in the sixties I was one of the two Anarchists in the PD that Bob Purdie mentions in “Politics in the Streets”, so I’m going to see the way society is being run today as something constrictive to any real human fulfillment, and I entirely agree with your final paragraph, although I’d attribute those very limitations entirely to the way society is presently constricted. There could be “other ways….”

    I’d probably agree with the paragraph above it too, but I’d frame it differently. We are all different, with different interests and talents. I’d not expect to be able to excell as a surgen for one thing, I paint, write, used to make films, but I’d feel that everyone can expreience some degree of fulfilling creativity in their own lives through something they love or simply enjoy doing. While the fine arts are in Ezra Pound’s phrase, “the sensitive nerve ends of society”, we all have things we deeply care about, and these are the foundation upon which personal creativity is built, in another phrase of Ezra’s “without strong tastes one does not love, nor, therefore, exist.” We live most fully in what we really love, but each of us expresses in the very particular manner that our life experiences have crafted us, and developed what you call “innate ability”. When this happens freely a great deal of creativity is released and humanity experiences what later generations think of as a cultural “golden age.”

    But hey, lets disagree and enjoy it, you are certainly answering me creatively! And thanks for “Bounce”….

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Well, if you recall, the DUP condemning Loyalists clearly wasn’t my subjective experience: I went to the trouble to pull out two articles on Paisley from the Independent and the Guardian as evidence for what happened. Don’t blame me for not paying attention during the reporting of the Troubles. It really was hard to miss unionist condemnations of Loyalist killings, they were consistent, regular and public. If you don’t believe me, feel free to ask any historian of the period.

    I’m not saying SF is wholly responsible for the bad behaviour of bandsmen and the like, I’ve seen it and I’m familiar with it and as one whose garden was urinated in en route, I have a lot of sympathy for residents. But it’s also true that SF – i.e. the political wing of the IRA, let’s not forget, and this all started when they were still killing the people they are now merely protesting about – has been instrumental in turning this into a wider campaign against 12th July parades. An organisation with SF’s record of abusing liberal ideas (as a Trojan Horse, they say) to poke a stick at the other lot, masterminding these protests against one of the British community’s cultural events, wasn’t ever going to help the residents’ cause seem entirely motivated by altruism.

    I want residents protected but I also don’t want the residents to become the bullies either. How about love, peace, harmony and a bit of tolerance for the other? It’s just some people walking down a road for a bit, if properly policed with sanctions for any sectarianism towards residents.

    But really I have every sympathy with anyone subjected to sectarianism by marchers, even people who are guilty of it themselves. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they shouldn’t have to suffer any abuse in their own neighbourhood. Showing tolerance to people who have wronged you is a big ask – but it is the right thing to do. A lot of the marchers have been affected by sectarianism too in their own lives. Everyone is hurt here. The thing is not to play it out in public, but hold everyone to good behaviour they all claim they are willing to show. Let’s make the parades about celebrating Protestant traditions positively – something we can all agree is a good thing.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    If you want respect then you have to show some to others, eh? … True up to a point, but then again, even if others have a right not to respect you, do they have a right to stop you completely, if they are being peaceful and making no attempt to provoke? I’m not saying that’s what has always happened, but just in theory, are you for stopping them no matter what, or only if they show disrespect?

  • carl marks

    .” It really was hard to miss unionist condemnations of Loyalist killings, they were consistent, regular and public”

    I believed i asked you to prove this before, and you couldn’t, the reason for this is very simple ITS NOT TRUE!

    and its strange that you seem to miss the point about the Ardoyne Parades, the vile sectarian habits of the OO and its coat trailers are still happening to this day( call up some night and check them out) If they want forgiveness and tolerance then stop acting like A%*h~#es, as for celebrating protestant culture (you do insist in trying to make 2% of the population representative of protestants) positivity, I have no problem with protestant traditions but the OO and KTP bands are not representative of Protestant traditions any more than aber is representative of Nationalism.
    Heres a tip for the OO, ditch the KTP band with links to terror groups, get rid of the drunken hanger ons, and talk to the residents (my god they wont even admit there are residents) then if they do that i will support the right of them to march!
    Oh and i would take all this right to march talk guff seriously if the very people sprouting it extended it to those they disapprove of, but that doesn’t happen does it!

  • carl marks

    OK, now tell me how far would the people occupying twaddell allow a republican parade to get down the shankill.
    Now don’t forget Unionists have a long history of stopping parades they don’t like and this is not a recent thing.
    and being peaceful and not trying to provoke, well that one was funny you obviously have never watched a OO parade going past Ardoyne and to be Honest the pride of Ardoyne exists to provoke (why else would you have your uniforms bedecked with the names of dead loyalist terrorist’s?and sure the nightly renderings of the Billy boys and the famine song aren’t meant to annoy anybody.
    And for the record if the OO cleans it act up and meet the people who live on the route (this will present a problem as the OO claims no one lives on the route) then i would withdraw any objections to a march and this is also the stated view of CARA (Garc is a problem but it should be noted that they have very little support in Ardoyne and none on the route of the march) but the OO refuses to talk so no talk no walk!

  • carl marks

    well it’s not the OO, they only make up a small part of the culture here, and most protestants don’t support it, the proof of this is the lack of thousands of protestants taking to the streets in support of their ” brothers” at Twaddell (the call went out but not a lot answered) if you want proof of this check out the attendance at the Grand Master’s ( gotta love the pretentious titles) little speeches, lucky if 20 turn up.
    Of course the UDA/UVF and their musical support turns up,
    and we get the odd unionist politician turning up but even they are starting to catch on that the whole thing is doing more harm than good and i suspect that they are regretting that the whole thing started and looking for a way to wash their hands of it!

  • carl marks

    Unionists have most to gain from the truth coming out about what everyone did in the Troubles.

    you would wonder why they oppose a truth commission then,
    and i am glad you are looking forward to the truth coming out, it will upset you but you will learn a lot,
    One of the myths that will be exploded is that ” unionist politicians routinely condemned loyalist atrocities, and i am looking forward to the OO explaining its links with loyalist terrorists both in the past and the present.