Richard Haass and his team should not be fooled by the New York spin.
Northern Ireland has not just hit one of those bumps on the road, one of those occasional difficult periods in the Robinson/McGuinness relationship.
This is something much more serious, a moment when politics has been taken to ‘a red line’ – and it is with this backdrop that the US Diplomat prepares to begin his work.
What is being spelled out by the authors of this article on eamonnmallie.com is an assessment some would prefer not to read, including those closest to the First Minister.
Because it continues to ask a critical question.
Is Peter Robinson any longer the political master of all that he surveys?
Long before news broke that the First Minister had scuppered plans for the Peace Centre on the Maze/Long Kesh site, his leadership was being scrutinised by republicans, both his leadership of the DUP and within the Executive.
Was he becoming another David Trimble – hobbled and a prisoner of the right wing of his party?
So, forget the spin that became part of the recent New York story telling.
The questions outlined above more accurately reflect the Robinson/McGuinness relationship and why things have arrived at ‘a red line’ in the process.
At the heart of this, is the principle of partnership government – how it is meant to function and how it is not working.
If that deteriorating relationship at the top of the Executive cannot not be fixed, then the Haass talks will become all the more problematic.
For more than a year, unelected forces have been conducting the political orchestra as street events linked to flags and marching have played into Stormont and clearly unnerved the unionist leadership.
The background beat is a loyalist commentary about “cultural war”.
In this street play, we see a positioning which is about votes and elections.
The tail is wagging the dog and, it is against this backdrop, that Robinson’s use of a unilateral veto on an agreed Programme for Government plan is being viewed.
What now for this much vaunted and flaunted internationally promoted project at Maze/Long Kesh?
There are more worrying and wider implications that stretch beyond the particulars of this planned development.
Robinson’s decision further damaged the credibility of that relationship in OFMDFM within which there is meant to be joint decision making.
This is the real issue ‘the red line’ and the step too far.
The Maze U-turn was all the more remarkable set against a previously agreed announcement of July 18 2012 in which it was stated:
‘The First Minister and deputy First Minister have agreed the appointment and composition of a Chair and Board of the Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation. Following the completion of the necessary appointment and administrative procedures the identity of the new Chair and ten Board members will be published. The Board was established by the Strategic Investment and Regeneration of Sites (Maze/Long Kesh Development Corporation) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011. Ministers have again emphasised their commitment to develop the 360 acre site to maximise its potential and look forward to working with the new Board to that end.’
Later Mr Robinson demonstrated his utter contempt for what he saw as an orchestrated anti Maze/Long Kesh Peace Centre campaign.
He spoke to the Belfast Telegraph about “scaremongering rubbish” over the building of a peace and reconciliation centre, saying those against it should be “taken away by men in white coats”.
So, when the First Minister left for his annual holiday in Florida there was certainly no public hint of the type of letter he would send from America.
It was the DUP leader’s response to a rising tide of unease with his direction of travel with Martin McGuinness, and this begs a question:
Has Mr Robinson fallen foul of a party moving to the right, a party fearful that it could lose votes or seats to others emerging and becoming more vociferous within a disgruntled working class Protestant community?
Is this the flags and marching factor playing out on the hill at Stormont and within the mainstream Unionist parties.
By way of explanation and context, the recent republican commemoration in Castlederg is now being presented as the reason for the re-think on Maze/Long Kesh.
Writing on this website recently one of the co-authors of this article Brian Rowan made an argument for quiet remembering without parades.
His comments were addressed not just to republicans, but across the board.
Loyalists – the UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando – parade on Remembrance Sunday and, just last weekend, the UVF remembered one of its dead in a march on the Shankill Road.
The political roof did not cave in – was not disturbed by loud voices of condemnation.
Remembrance, remembering, commemoration are not just about how republicans do it.
It should be about how it is done by everyone and every side. The authors of this article take the view that no-one should be marching through and over hurt just to prove they haven’t forgotten. In that context Castlederg was a misjudgement.
So, as Haass prepares to begin his work with talks vice chair Meghan O’Sullivan, there is a need for everyone and every side to take a deep breath – to pause and reflect.
There is a choice to do the things of political leadership or to capitulate to the street play.
Either politics is done together or things don’t get done.
Away from New York and away from the spin, there are now decisions to be made.
Haass and O’Sullivan can help people think more clearly, can concentrate minds, can urge and encourage, but their recommendations need to be jointly sold by Robinson and McGuinness.
So, first of all, their working relationship has to be fixed, has to be walked back from the red line and before it is too late.