Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Today is critical for us all as the Haass deal now has to be sealed

After months of discussions and the complex negotiations of recent days, everything will depend on how today's sessions of the Haass talks will play themselves out.

Without doubt, it is one of the most important stages of our public and community life since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement so long ago, and the outcome will have real importance for all of us.

After so much negotiation, we are apparently in the tantalising position of having achieved around 90% agreement, but the real test for Dr Haass and all the others is to cross the finishing line with a deal which will stand the test of time.

Even at this stage the details are complex, as our reports in today's paper show, with all the sticking points, but also the likely consequences of achieving a substantive agreement.

The Belfast Telegraph, which has a long history of supporting meaningful co-operation between the two main communities in Northern Ireland, will support any significant steps taken by the political leaders to make the kind of concessions which will facilitate success and widespread support. However, it is important that any agreement will bring with it the support of the victims and their families, a critical factor not properly addressed in the Eames-Bradley report.

It is also important that any agreement should differentiate between legitimate action by the security forces and members of the paramilitary groups on both sides who deliberately set out to use violence as a political weapon.

Nevertheless, any claims of illegal acts of collusion involving the security forces should continue to be thoroughly investigated.

There have been mixed signals about the limits of an 'amnesty', but we believe that this is in principle not a good idea, and its inclusion would quickly torpedo any agreement when viewed by the eyes of the general public.

However, some version of a limited immunity could be useful to allow people to give their version of events, in an attempt to bring closure to this extremely painful period of our history.

Too many people on all sides have suffered, and it is not difficult to understand why many of them need to tell their own story. It will be important to devise a system which will not become a financial bonanza for the lawyers, which was clearly one of the less successful outcomes of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

The complexity of the Haass proposals, as far as we know them, might seem daunting to public, but there is a symmetry about them which, with both goodwill and common sense, might allow all the parts to fall into place.

Today could be a big day for everyone, and not least the First Minister Peter Robinson who could make his own mark in history, like Dr Paisley previously, by signing an appropriate agreement.

This could be his opportunity to behave like a true leader, just as other politicians will also need to move us forward.

A week is a long time in politics, but not for some time has the outcome of one day seemed so important to all of us, for good or ill.

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