Belfast Telegraph

Uncompromising politicians have failed us, and failed us abysmally

Editor's Viewpoint

Fifteen years ago the world's media were camped outside Stormont buildings as Northern Ireland's parties inched their way towards the historic Good Friday pact.

However flawed some might have viewed aspects of the Belfast Agreement, it gave hope around the world that seemingly intractable conflicts could be solved.

A decade-and-a-half later the world has moved on, but the integrity of our squabble remains intact. Media interest around the world, however, has been minimal this time.

Richard Haass and his colleague Meghan O'Sullivan had hoped to have some sort of resolution to the outstanding issues of flags, parades and the past by Christmas. The deadline was delayed by a week and still there was no resolution.

The old issues of flags and language proved the most difficult to find common ground on.

After seven drafts, no agreement could be found. David Cameron, among others, has sounded an optimistic note that all is not lost, but this should not delude anyone as to the damage that has been caused to the political process at home and the view of Northern Ireland from abroad.

It should be remembered that Drs Haass and O'Sullivan were invited by the First Ministers to facilitate talks. This was not a rerun of the Belfast Agreement with the involvement of the British, Irish and US governments. It was up to us – and we failed abysmally. Listening to some critics of Dr Haass, one could easily believe that the American diplomat was here to impose a deal when the reality is that he never even had the power to do this. Renowned for his patience, Dr Haass has clearly been exasperated by his experience. The way he has been treated would count as sheer bad manners in many people's books.

In the end, we ended up with Draft 7, which seemingly has minuscule differences from previous drafts.

The substantive issue of flags, one of the main reasons Dr Haass was called upon in the first place, was knocked down the line a while back. The contents of this draft have now officially been made public, so people can draw their own judgments. But the failure to agree even on a fudge of some sort has only highlighted divisions that lie at the heart of our permanently enshrined power-sharing administration.

One can't help be left to wonder whether short-term electoral gain was of more concern to some than the leadership and vision needed to build on the peace process and bed Northern Ireland down as a 'normal' society.

We have made so much progress elsewhere, but once again, as we face a new year, the divisive issues of flags, parades and the past remain unresolved – with the potential to bedevil the present.

There will be efforts to reheat the talks, but the damage to Northern Ireland's image may be harder to repair.

Belfast Telegraph


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