Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Implementation and legislation of Haass best way to honour obligations to victims and survivors

Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O'Sullivan after the final day of talks on New Year's Eve in Belfast

The time for talking is over. Implementation and legislation is the only way forward for the Haass/O'Sullivan process.

As someone who was involved during the process, I saw first-hand the level of detail and discussion that was entered into by the five parties.

Afterwards, as deadlines were passed and Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan broke from their holidays to return for one last push; it became evident that more time and talking was not going to close the gap or resolve the issues.

The SDLP talks team recommended to our party that we give a general endorsement to draft seven of the Haass/O’Sullivan proposals.

This was because it is SDLP view that this document represents quite a successful outcome in terms of dealing with the past; a more moderate achievement in terms of parading; and a less than successful outcome in terms of flags and emblems.

When we entered this process the SDLP was very clear the past was the biggest test and would ultimately be how the process would be judged.

That is why the SDLP recommended the involvement of voices outside the talks room. We believe that the strongest part of the Haass/O’Sullivan process was not the parties.

The strongest part was those voices and the input of civic society and victims and survivors in particular.

It would be utterly wrong to deny to those who have endured the most the opportunity to deal comprehensively and ethically with the past.

It remains the single biggest obligation on the parties post Haass. Implementation and legislation is the best way of honouring that obligation.

The parties must now put aside narrow political self-interest and commit to doing the right thing.