Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Haass talks: Words change, but key proposals alter little

First Minister Peter Robinson speaks to the media with his DUP party colleagues at Stormont after the five main Stormont parties had been examining the document drafted by US diplomat Richard Haas
First Minister Peter Robinson speaks to the media with his DUP party colleagues at Stormont after the five main Stormont parties had been examining the document drafted by US diplomat Richard Haas

In any negotiation there are only so many ways you can write a document and present your proposals.

And, in the many drafts of the Haass talks, the same themes keep emerging.

A process on the past including an Historical Investigations Unit, an Independent Commission for Information Retrieval and a body called The Implementation and Reconciliation Group.

The proposed role of this last group would be to monitor the other elements of the past process if implemented and its make-up would include victims' representatives.

As part of the information retrieval process there is also a plan – after three to five years – for an Advisory Group of experts on the Northern Ireland conflict to look for any patterns emerging from the information gleaned.

It is in dealing with the past that we find the most potential for progress within the Haass initiative.

What the US talks team wants to do is bring much of the Eames-Bradley thinking back into play. After so long on the shelf, this in itself would be a significant achievement.

And the range of proposals, particularly in the area of information retrieval assisted by limited immunity, could provide some greater explanation and context in relation to the conflict years.

Yesterday, unionists remained concerned about the potential for "a rewriting of history".

The separate Investigations Unit, while keeping open the road to justice, will not result in a significant number of convictions.

As we awaited developments yesterday, a talks insider described the latest Haass-O'Sullivan draft documents as a "synthesis" of previous papers – containing "very little new".

Within the proposals for a new parading framework, the key element is a body called The Authority for Public Events Adjudication.

Its seven members would rule on contentious marches, but Haass and O'Sullivan, like the party negotiators, will know the real test of any new process will happen on the ground.

After weeks and weeks of talking, however, the flags issue is still the chief problem and, in his proposals, Haass was not able to change things.

His suggestion for a Commission on Identity, Culture and Traditions is a fudge.

These documents have been written and rewritten – changed and changed again

Haass has tried and tried again to get a script in these negotiations that will work for the five Executive parties.

Haass and O'Sullivan have done all they can to create the different structures and this is now down to political will – and how much the parties really want to make this agreement.

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