Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

US negotiators Haass and O'Sullivan have done all they can do, it's make or break for our political representatives

Richard Haass

When you have been through the world's conflict zones you get a sharp sense of perspective and context.

And this is what the US team of Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan have brought to this negotiation in Belfast. They know what difficulty is and they know the issues under discussion here are not intractable.

Whatever the divisions in this society, you can get people into a room and round a table, and this negotiation didn't start from square one.

In Dr O'Sullivan's words it has grown from an already "well developed conversation".

Take the complex area of the past and all its different parts.

Think of the work already done by Eames/Bradley, by the project Healing Through Remembering, by the many victims groups – by the Forum and Commission – and the academic research around amnesty and immunity.

"Ideas ripen in the public marketplace," Dr Haass (right) said on Saturday.

And in the developing drafts of this process we see significant parts of the Eames/Bradley report – particularly in the areas of historical investigation and information retrieval – begin to bloom after several years in the political wilderness.

But maybe what politicians have not yet learned is when to step back and leave the shaping of a process on the past to others.

Yes, there is the unionist concern about history being rewritten, but nor should it be controlled by the demands and concerns and thinking of any one community.

If there is any deep excavation of the conflict period and its different war plays, then the narrative will be disturbed. Think about why Haass and O'Sullivan were needed.

It was to bring to the discussion some outside thinking; bring impetus after a period of years when politics here jogged on the spot rather than try to advance the discussion on these issues.

By Saturday, the US team had written five drafts of their proposals across the areas of flags, parading and the past – with a sixth draft to be prepared to guide the last phase of the negotiation.

At this stage, there will be no new or dramatic idea. If this deal is to be done, then we know its shape.

A new parading framework that changes the decision-making structure but may not change attitudes on the contentious marching roads. And a Commission on Identity, Culture and Traditions that will begin another long conversation on the issues of flags, language and rights.

Where you can see the real work and detail in the drafts is on the past:

* A Historical Investigations Unit;

* An Independent Commission for Information Retrieval;

* An Implementation and Reconciliation Group to monitor progress;

* And a process to examine patterns/themes from the conflict years.

The last of these issues took up hours of discussion in Saturday's round-table meeting involving Haass/O'Sullivan and the negotiators.

You can imagine what the different parties would want in and out, and we don't know how the list included in draft five might change by draft six.

On Saturday it included alleged collusion – British and Irish – allegations of shoot-to-kill and ethnic cleansing, targeting, punishment activity, policy on the Disappeared, detention without trial, the alleged mistreatment of prisoners, and sources of financing and arms for loyalists and republicans.

By lunchtime today we are expecting decision time – the deal or no deal moment.

Haass and O'Sullivan know if it can't be done it won't be that the missing ingredient is more time.

It is now for the Executive parties to decide whether to lead or retreat.

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