Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Richard Haass may be about to show his tougher side

Dr Richard Haass gives a press conference at the Europa Hotel after he met with the five parties in the Northern Ireland Executive for a further round of talks
Dr Richard Haass gives a press conference at the Europa Hotel after he met with the five parties in the Northern Ireland Executive for a further round of talks

Is Richard Haass a Pollyanna, like the cheery little girl in Eleanor Porter's novel who always looked on the bright side however appropriate despair might have seemed?

He was called that during his term here as US Special Envoy under George W Bush, but he turned out to know what he was doing.

Yesterday he brushed off predictions from a cynical press pack that there could be renewed marching disputes and flag protests when he returned here in November and December to try to broker a deal. If things are going well it will provide a good atmosphere for talks, he countered, and if they were going badly then it could lend urgency to the quest for a solution.

A Pollyanna sentiment on the surface, but with a certain ring of truth to it.

People often forget that Pollyanna was pretty effective at getting what she wanted in the end, life's vicissitudes including a near fatal car crash turned out to be part of a her learning curve.

Dr Haass, for his part, said he was on a fairly steep learning curve and although he didn't talk car crashes he did talk about the rubber hitting the road during his next two visits.

He seems willing to bring things to a head if that is what it takes.

And of course being optimistic, stressing that progress is possible at this stage, is the most effective way of twisting arms and bringing pressure on the parties to deliver.

If he had been down in the dumps and predicted an inconclusive outcome that would let the parties off the hook.

Instead he displayed a brisk, can-do attitude. He has learnt how dangerous offering excuses for failure can be during his long career as a diplomat and negotiator in other troubled regions.

The parties will probably see a tougher side of him in December when he chairs intensive talks in the run-up to Christmas. Then he will focus in on specifics and use the season of goodwill to push home his point. When he was here as envoy he wasn't afraid, when it came to a crunch point, to point the finger and allocate blame for logjams either.

Yesterday he said that he was getting three governments (Irish, British and American) to lend their weight to the process and play a part in the settlement.

When asked directly, he didn't rule out a visit by Joe Biden, the US Vice President, to give his blessing to the endeavour. That could happen in the New Year, and it will add to the pressure.

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