ThIs negotiation was handed three toxic issues. It ended in some agreement but no overall consensus. Given the matters under discussion, we should not be surprised that there was confusion rather than clarity at its endpoint.
1 Flags: No agreement on what proved to be the most difficult question to answer in these negotiations. At the end of the talks there remains a huge gap separating the parties. A new, agreed designated days arrangement for the display of the Union flag, identifying dates and buildings, was not achieved. Unionists also wanted Belfast to be given "special case status". The Sinn Fein position was framed within the words "equality or neutrality" – meaning both national flags on display or no flags at all. Haass and O'Sullivan tried to find middle ground with the idea of a 'new' or 'neutral' flag. But no progress was made and the proposal from the US team is for a longer term process involving a Commission on Identities, Culture and Tradition.
2 Parading: There is a new proposed framework to replace the Parades Commission. It would mean two new offices – The Office for Parades, Select Commemorations and Related Protests and The Authority for Public Events Adjudication. But a senior republican asked: "Are the Orange going to sign up to the new parading mechanism? And even if you had the best mechanism in the world, is it going to resolve contentious parades? On this issue, it is mindsets we are talking about."
3 Code of Conduct for Parades, Protests and Commemorations: One well-placed observer of the negotiations who has read the various drafts and final text commented: "It is supposed to set the rules on behaviour and attitudes – setting the tone for how an event takes place. The Code of Conduct in the parades piece [of the Haass/O'Sullivan final text] is nearly weaker or weaker than what we have now." This is the same source who said the stripping of detail from proposals as they evolved had left parts of the document "looking like a turkey on Boxing Day".
4 Language/terrorism: Ulster Unionist negotiator Tom Elliott said the drafts and final text "do not demonstrate anywhere the difference between perpetrators and innocent victims. As far as I'm concerned, 90% of the three and a half thousand murders in Northern Ireland were carried out by terrorists. Many people were convicted under The Terrorism Act. So, to the vast majority of people, they were terrorists. That should have been recognised in the text." In his early morning news conference yesterday, the DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson also raised concerns about "language and detail" – stressing that "innocent victims must come first".
5 Limited Immunity: There are suggestions from a number of sources that the use of the words 'limited immunity' had caused the DUP concern. There is reference to the term in the information retrieval section of the Haass document. The idea is to use a type of immunity to assist what is often referred to as a 'truth recovery' process. Sources say the DUP would have preferred the word 'inadmissible' to have been used – a different way of describing 'limited immunity' and still meaning any information given in this process could not be used in the separate investigations strand.
6 Maze Peace Centre/Irish language: In his early morning news conference yesterday, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams expressed his party's disappointment that "issues like Acht NaGaelige [an Irish language Act] and the development at Maze/Long Kesh, which were part of previous agreements, were not advanced" in the talks. "They remain to be resolved in the time ahead. These issues are not going away," he said.