Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Richard Haass talks: Inside the draft document they couldn't agree

The Haass document drew on the ideas of Robin Eames and Denis Bradley (right)

The word-play in this long negotiation continued right through to the last minute of the last hour and into the final text delivered to the parties after midnight yesterday.

It has been a battle over language – every word and their different meanings.

And as we look over the final text published last night on the website of the First and Deputy First Ministers, we find both detail and fudge.

There was no progress on the flags issue, but rather "more process", to quote the Alliance MP and negotiator Naomi Long.

After no deal could be struck on designated days, a new Northern Ireland flag, opt-outs for councils and other ideas, the document stated simply: "We reached no agreement on any of these proposals."

It added: "Without a larger consensus on the place of Britishness and Irishness we could not reach a common position on the flying of flags and the display of other emblems, which are in fact manifestations of these identities."

Instead, the parties have been left to consider a proposal for a Commission on Identities, Culture and Tradition. This body would make a report with findings and recommendations to the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which should be made public.

A detailed section of the final text explains its role.

"In the context of this report, the commission will address, but will not be limited to, the issues of flags, including the unofficial flying of flags in public spaces and the role of the Union flag, recognising the sovereign status of Northern Ireland; emblems from various traditions; Irish and other languages, including Ulster Scots; a Bill of Rights; gender; public holidays, possibly including a day of remembrance or reflection for Northern Ireland; the memorabilia, symbols, emblems and signage displayed in local and central government buildings; and other symbols of national and other identities..."

Other topics could become part of the commission's work. This was described by another negotiator as "a big societal conversation".

But Ms Long said: "I'm not here to cook fudge and I'm not going to sell it."

And what she means is the outcome of this negotiation failed to deliver anything close to a deal on that key and controversial question of flags.

The idea of a day of remembrance or reflection is not new.

It has grown out of the work of the project Healing Through Remembering and became a proposal in the Eames/Bradley Report, the controversial January 2009 publication which was rejected by public consultation.

And in a detailed section on the past, Haass and O'Sullivan brought much of that shelved report back into play.

The key bodies proposed by the US team remained settled throughout the different draft reports of the process and made their way through to the final text:

* An Historical Investigations Unit.

* An Independent Commission on Information Retrieval.

* An Implementation and Reconciliation Group to monitor progress across the area of addressing the past. One of the last battles in these talks was around a list of conflict-era themes and patterns that should be examined as part of a detailed analysis within the information process.

A list was part of a draft five document last weekend, which disappeared from the next draft. But as a result of a unionist push, it was slightly altered and reinstated in the final text.

Examples of the themes it could consider include:

* Alleged collusion between Governments and paramilitaries.

* Alleged ethnic cleansing in border regions and in interface neighbourhoods.

* The alleged UK 'shoot to kill' policy.

* The reported targeting of off-duty UDR soldiers, prison officers and reservist Royal Ulster Constabulary officers.

* The degree to which, if at all, the Republic provided a 'safe haven' to republican paramilitaries.

* Intra-community violence by paramilitaries.

* The use of lethal force in public order situations.

* Detention without trial.

* Mistreatment of detainees and prisoners.

* Any policy behind the Disappeared.

* The sources of financing and arms for paramilitary groups.

"As themes are agreed or identified, the themes unit will analyse them rigorously, on the strict basis of the evidence in front of them, and without political influence," the final text reads.

The reason this section of the final text was so important to unionists was because it took any examination of the conflict period into a much wider framework.

But what the list also demonstrates is that any excavation of the past will not just be about republicans and loyalists, but will put a focus on governments, security and intelligence.

For some, this is the frightening aspect.

Haass and O'Sullivan left here in the early hours of yesterday morning tired but not broken by this negotiation.

And they have left the real test to political will and leadership.

There is a detailed plan there.

This process won't be judged on what happened in the intense last weeks of negotiation – but on what happens next.

That's the real challenge.

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