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Larkin row sums up Haass dilemma

Attorney General John Larkin's solo run on proposing that a line is drawn under the past and no further inquests, enquiries or prosecutions are undertaken, has certainly not gone down well with his political masters. Mr Larkin is the legal adviser to the Northern Ireland Executive, and First Minister Peter Robinson has not been impressed – to put it mildly – by his intervention on this controversial issue.

He sees no merit in Mr Larkin's suggestions and refuses to confirm that he would be reappointed to the post of Attorney General after his term runs out in May. As well – the terms of reference of the Attorney General are to be redrafted. Of course, Mr Larkin probably anticipated the reaction, and may well have been resigned to it. One person who will be taking a keen interest in the furore created by Mr Larkin's proposals is Dr Richard Haass, who has been handed the poisoned chalice of finding a way of dealing with the past.

He will realise that the anger and hurt of those bereaved in the Troubles is still intense and that many want to see the killers of their loved ones prosecuted and punished, even if that is a very remote possibility.

Dr Haass has a very difficult task on his hands. It must look to him that solving the issues of flags and parades will be much easier than dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

He will realise now – if he didn't before – that whatever proposals he comes up with on all those issues will not find a consensus.

But rather than despair, he should take this as a signal to be bold. If he tries to placate everyone, he will fail. What common ground does anyone see between the Orange Order, residents' groups and flag protesters?

Even the relatives of victims have differing aims, many wanting prosecutions, others wanting public inquiries and others simply the truth of what happened. Perhaps his best way forward is to impose his own blue-sky thinking as an outsider... and then let us get on with a way of implementing it.

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