We need bravery if Haass talks are to succeed
The political decisions which will be taken next week as a result of the Haass talks will mark a watershed for Northern Ireland, either way.
The stakes are high, so all the participants should think very carefully before they come to a final conclusion.
Much credit is due to Richard Haass and his team for showing so much patience with us, as well as for taking so much time in helping to try to find a way forward on the vexed questions about dealing with flags, parades and the past.
Some critics may feel that Haass is rushing things to try to get an agreement before Christmas. However, there is a much stronger argument in favour of forcing people to meet a deadline, and this should help to concentrate minds wonderfully.
To put it bluntly we need people to step up to the plate and to try genuinely and sincerely to find a solution.
This will require, in many cases, a different mindset. This is not the time for people to wallow in suspicions bout what 'the other side' might be getting, or if they are getting more than they are.
The majority of people in Northern Ireland are literally hoping for the best, and there is a strong desire that the final proposals that are adopted will be genuinely meaningful.
There is no point in coming to an agreement which allows the politicians to applaud themselves for having reached a settlement, but one which is so compromised that there is limited practical advantage in carrying it forward.
The basis for a lasting agreement would be one which underlines that in dealing with the major controversies like the past, flags and parades, people on all sides should be aiming for genuine compromise, and to cease tinkering with the finer details which would be merely an excuse for not facing up to the real issues that need solved.
A genuine agreement next week would be a very welcome Christmas present for people on all sides, but a failure to find a solution could leave Northern Ireland facing yet another long period of disruption, distrust and despair.