Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Richard Haass talks: Despite a lot of seemingly tireless work, it gradually dawned on us a deal would never be put to bed

The final stretch of the Haass negotiation ran well into the night, and not for the first time. Our political correspondent Noel McAdam was among the media burning the midnight oil as the hours ticked by...

The assembled media quiz Alasdair McDonnell and the SDLP talks team
The assembled media quiz Alasdair McDonnell and the SDLP talks team

Having failed to put a deal to bed, politicians instead took themselves to slumberland, spending a lot of New Year's Eve under the covers.

Many had hung around – seemingly unwilling or unable to finally let go – after it became clear they could only agree to disagree in the early hours of yesterday morning.

After defeat was finally conceded, they then became caught up in doing media interviews and staying around for the breakfast radio programmes.

It had been a long, long night at the Stormont Hotel – the last in a series of them.

The mood music had become increasingly sombre as the long-suffering Press pack began to realise how long the middle of the night can be.

As 5am approached, with confirmation that there was to be no deal, there was some righteous anger. But also a feeling, overall, of resignation.

Conflicting signs had continued long into the wee small hours (which turn out to be a misnomer).

Alliance negotiator Naomi Long had gone home, prompting claims of a walkout even though home for the East Belfast MP wasn't far away.

Within an hour, she returned, apparently restored and with the gift of a box of chocolates for the sagging Press corps.

And even if it takes more than a Ferrero Rocher to revive the average reporter, it was a definite high on an evening dominated by lows that this reporter was awarded two.

Earlier, a Champagne fountain was spotted in the suite where some of the Press conferences have taken place, sparking speculation of a bubbly toast to welcome the final document.

It turned out to be a wedding prop – inappropriate for parties not yet ready to take their vows.

The signs of a long night ahead began to show the evening before. A plenary planned for about 6.30pm had been pushed back.

At one stage hacked-off hacks were told they could take a four-hour break because there would be nothing happening. For one commentator this was the chance to see relatives and friends invited to his home for a dinner party – and he lost no time in joining them.

Even when the pack had fully reassembled around 11pm, the Haass draft – the seventh – had not yet been finalised.

It didn't come at midnight. Finally the parties let it be known it had landed at about 12.40am and they were being given two hours to examine it.

Thus a plenary to examine what was being referred to as the 'final text' was also pushed back from its 1.30am slot.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (left) were keeping a watching brief on proceedings as, after 1am, the two biggest Stormont parties – DUP and Sinn Fein – seemed to beef up their teams. First came Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, and then Mr McGuinness himself, accompanied by Gerry Adams.

Former Education Minister Caitriona Ruane also arrived, but unionists were beginning to murmur there would be "no agreement tonight", a development confirmed at 5.30am.

To cap it all, as 6am promised the first glimmers of dawn, Richard Haass told us that he wasn't really a "late bird".

He said: "It's rare I make it past 10-10.30 so this has been an entirely new experience".

Not one he'll be coming back to repeat, anytime soon.

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