Conflicting views meant talks were doomed to failure
Published 06/01/2014 | 08:30
In the early hours of December 31, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness arrived at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast to give their seal of approval to the proposals of Dr Richard Haass.
Among the parties present, these two men were in a unique position, since one of the central tenets of the negotiations – to find the truth about the past – must have impinged on their lives more than anyone else.
As so happened over the New Year, I was thumbing through Ed Moloney's definitive book A Secret History of the IRA, which chronicles the role of Gerry Adams as the IRA's guiding light during the Troubles and also details the leadership role of Martin McGuinness.
The book traces Mr Adams's family background of violent republicanism, through his own rise through D company, the 2nd Battalion and eventually as commander of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and the brains behind so much of its campaign of violence.
As I read Ed Moloney's account, from the foundations of the Provisional IRA to the eventual decommissioning of its weapons, I couldn't help but wonder whether the leaders of Sinn Fein would ever agree to submit their own past to the wider scrutiny proposed by Dr Haass.
Would they themselves be prepared to bare their souls, open their hearts and generally confess all that they had done to a truth tribunal and, in so doing, set an example which others might follow?
Gerry Adams has been among the most vociferous supporters of the Haass blueprint in the past week, saying a clear response is needed from everyone.
There could be no clearer response from the Sinn Fein leader himself, or the deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, than for them to say publicly that, if the Haass proposals were implemented, they would be at the head of the queue to co-operate fully.
Tragically, this is unlikely to happen now, or in the future. The 3,300, or more, who killed and have never been made accountable for their actions, or been prepared to own up to what they did, can continue to rest easy. The families of those who were their victims are no nearer finding the truth, or obtaining a measure of justice. The 40-page final Haass draft is a verbose, convoluted mishmash of irreconcilable views. Never was there a better illustration of the impotency of coalition government – it simply doesn't work effectively, or decisively.
On flags, Haass had no answers other than to suggest more talking for months, if not years, ahead. On parades, it is hard to see how the new quangoes he proposes will be any better than what is in place currently at solving the stand-offs at Drumcree, or north Belfast.
On dealing with the past, there is no surety that new and extremely costly inquiry teams will prove any better at unearthing the truth, or delivering justice.
Dr Richard Haass and the US government appear to have been taken for a very big political ride by local leaders at Stormont, who must have known from the outset that there was not a hope of finding agreement in three months on the issues presented to him.
As a result, the politics of devolution are further diminished in the public eye. The reaction on the streets tells us that people on all sides are not impressed, or enthused. Hopes were raised which could never be realised.
The responsibility for this fiasco lies at all our feet, but principally at those who thought up this ill-timed and ill-judged exercise in the first place.
Listeners to Stephen Nolan's "biggest radio show in the country" were treated on December 31 to a recorded message telling them their texts and emails on Dr Haass, or any other subject, would not be handled. Instead, we were given a debate on abortion broadcast earlier in the year.
If the health service, or other public bodies, applied the same approach to Christmas and New Year as BBC Northern Ireland, the latter would be the first to highlight it on programmes such as Nolan's, or Talkback. The local BBC's failings reminded me of a similar debacle nationally, when the tsunami struck south-east Asia on Boxing Day 2004. One of the most tragic news events of the century was lost in the holiday broadcasting schedules.
The reality is that news is as unpredictable at Christmas and New Year as at any other time. Thank heavens our hospitals and other public services take more cognisance than the BBC locally that life goes on 365 days a year.