Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Richard Haass talks: Twists and turns stripped away the details of the proposals

Dr Richard Haass talks to the media at the Stormont hotel in Belfast, where all party talks failed to secure a deal.
Dr Richard Haass talks to the media at the Stormont hotel in Belfast, where all party talks failed to secure a deal.

Before the seventh draft of proposals emerged from the Haass negotiations late last night, one source close to the talks suggested they now looked "like a turkey on Boxing Day".

The source - who has read every single line of every draft - said: "What hasn't changed has been the ethos of what they hope to achieve under each of the headlines. But what has changed is the minutiae within the script - and in places the detail has been stripped away.

"Throughout the early phase, issues were included that, realistically, were undeliverable, put there to be taken out (such as the Maze peace centre)."

The source said that in some parts of the document, so much of the detail had been stripped away it was left looking "like a turkey on Boxing Day".

The talks got serious in the past fortnight when they moved from meetings and consultation on to deal-making. The drafting has since moved in one direction and swung back to the other.

The controversial Maze peace centre plan became part of the discussion before the first comprehensive paper covering all three areas of the talks-- flags, parades and the past.

But not for long.

After making no progress on the flags question, Dr Richard Haass and vice-chair Professor Meghan O'Sullivan then floated the idea of a 'new' or 'neutral' flag for Northern Ireland.

That didn't fly for long either. Nor did the republican demand for two flags - the tricolour and Union flag - or no flag at all.

But unionists weren't able to advance their proposals for all councils to fly the Union flag on designated days, with Belfast given "special case status" either.

And so the Commission on Identity, Culture and Traditions became part of the plan - and at that point we knew at least one of the three questions was not going to be answered in this negotiation.

A big unionist demand has been a replacement for the Parades Commission.

But its replacement with what?

Read through the drafts and you will find the important-sounding names for new bodies.

The Political and Cultural Expression and Facilitation Office didn't last for long.

In more recent drafts, a new two-tier system has been described - The Office for Parades, Select Commemoration and Related Protests and The Authority for Public Events Adjudication.

The second of those offices would have seven members including a chair -- very much like the Parades Commission and performing the same sort of task.

An argument inside the talks has been for a greater effort and focus on changing attitudes rather than titles and structures.

The most settled part of the draft has been in the area of the past - the Historical Investigations Unit and Independent Commission for Information Retrieval have survived the re-writing.

Late last night the 'draft seven' document was being prepared by Haass and O'Sullivan, but it wasn't clear what - if anything - would come back into play.