Belfast Telegraph

Richard Haass talks: Fifteen years ago the world looked on, now the story is very different

By CHRIS KILPATRICK

THE eyes of the world were on Northern Ireland as its political leaders worked round-the-clock to broker the Good Friday Agreement 15 years ago.

A vast media pack consisting of journalists from across the globe was tasked with keeping the public up-to-date on the historic talks.

Last night many of the same faces from that time were among those awaiting the outcome of talks aimed at addressing issues unresolved from 1998.

This time round, the number of journalists and film crew gathered was a fraction of that for the Good Friday Agreement.

Deric Henderson, Ireland editor of the Press Association, said the scale of what was at stake, and subsequent interest levels, meant the Haass talks "were not in the same league" as the 1998 negotiations.

"Good Friday was Champions League stuff, this year you are talking Division One," he said.

"The issues are different. Good Friday was more about the constitution, this is about housekeeping.

"It's very much local, very much domestic. It's not in the same league as Good Friday."

BBC political editor Mark Devenport, who also covered both events, said the difference in interest levels was stark.

"There was undoubtedly a much larger, international media presence for the Good Friday Agreement talks," he said.

"I'd say the media presence was around three times the size. It was much bigger and that's because of what was at stake.

"We were at an earlier stage in the process, the ceasefires were recent history so the world was watching with greater fascination than at this point."

UTV political editor Ken Reid said the timing of the recent talks may also have impacted upon the level of public interest, given the final round of negotiations took place in the run-up to Christmas.

"There is not the same degree of pressure," he added.

"Sure you are dealing with the ambiguity left by the Good Friday Agreement, but no matter what, the Assembly will still be running from next Monday."

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