Inside the Haass Talks – Deal or No Deal? – By Brian Rowan

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +
Meghan O'Sullivan and Dr Richard Haass pictured taking a break from the meeting at the Stormont Hotel.

Meghan O’Sullivan and Dr Richard Haass pictured taking a break from the meeting at the Stormont Hotel.


Why is Richard Haass here?

There is a simple answer to that question.

He and Meghan O’Sullivan are here because the political parties and the governments have been unable or unwilling to find the answers to the questions under discussion – flags, parades and the past.

So, there is a choice?

To take what is put on the table and do something with it or to retreat back into the comfort of the different political positions and do nothing.

One Talks source told me that  Haass and O’Sullivan are not going to produce a ‘Green’ or an ‘Orange’ document, but rather a paper that challenges everyone.

None of this is easy, and the US Talks team also has a decision to make.

How much drafting and re-drafting to do?

Will more time, more re-working and re-wording get any more done?

We know from the document put before the parties on Monday the frame within which Haass and O’Sullivan are working.

On the past the idea is for a single Historical Investigations Unit with a Director.

There would also be a Director of an Independent Commission looking at the retrieval or recovery of information – the part of the process that would use a type of immunity.

It is not an amnesty DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson stressed and there will be a firewall between Investigation and Information Retrieval.

In other words the road to justice will not be blocked, but we know this route will lead in many cases – indeed in most cases – to a dead end.

Investigations and the courts will deliver little and, so, another way has to be added to the process without removing rights to justice.

Haass and O’Sullivan also have thoughts on acknowledgement and on an archive to record the different narratives or stories of the conflict years.

As the talks continued on Tuesday, the Victims Commissioner Kathryn Stone hosted a consultation in another part of the Stormont Hotel, and in that room we saw reminders of the horrors of those conflict years.

Alliance negotiator Naomi Long said on Tuesday: “We owe a huge debt to the victims.”

Ms Stone’s response, addressed to all those involved in these talks, was delivered in a few words: “If the debt is huge – pay it.”

The Commissioner said victims and survivors need choices.

They are there within the Haass/O’Sullivan framework – investigation, information retrieval, acknowledgement and the story-telling archive.

Ms Stone has also been talking about a specific victims pension.

“It’s the victims who have sacrificed most,” she said – “suffered most and who have an important contribution to make to what politicians call a better and a shared future.”

Another Haass/O’Sullivan idea is for a museum – another jigsaw piece in a picture that will only be made if those involved in  these talks really want to see it.

“If the political will is there we can do this in 48 hours,” Sinn Fein negotiator Gerry Kelly said – “if it’s not, then we can’t.”

He added: “They are not new issues.”

They’re not, but a new approach is needed and that is the purpose of this Haass/O’Sullivan initiative – to do something different, to provide the scaffolding within which to build.

The parading framework they suggest is set within a Public Events Facilitation body with a seven-member Public Events Authority including a Director and a three-member Appeals tier.

It moves things out of the Northern Ireland Office and towards the Department of Justice, but what does the re-shaping do?

Well it means there won’t be something called the Parades Commission but a process re-named and re-structured within which there is adjudication.

You can change the ways of ruling on these things, but more important is, can you change moods and attitudes on the ground.

“It can’t be about managing divisions,” one source who has read the document told me.

The flags issue is in stalemate.

There is no advance on the designated days when the Union flag would be displayed in Belfast but, controversially, Haass identified stipulated Irish visits when he believes it would be appropriate to fly the tricolour at Parliament Buildings.

Having read all three sections of the composite paper on Monday, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt quoted Thatcher’s out, out, out speech and said we were a long way from in, in, in.

So, the US team is re-drafting, but it is time for something that should represent their final paper.

These aren’t new issues, but much of what we have heard in response this week is the broken record of ‘I want’ and ‘we want’.

That doesn’t work.

SDLP negotiator Alex Attwood said this week his party was working to the Haass timeline of close of play on Thursday.

There is a suggestion of a contingency for more talking on December 27, 28, 29 and 30 – but would that change anything?

The Haass team will decide on that and then there is a call to be made.

This process doesn’t just need a document and proposals, it demands political will and leadership – and it is time to do something.



About Author

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster. Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist-of-the-Year awards. He was BBC security editor in Belfast and now contributes regularly to the Belfast Telegraph and UTV. Rowan has reported on the major pre-ceasefire and then peace process events. He is the author of four books.


  1. This is a clear reflection of the evident inability & unwillingness of elected representatives to move beyond their entrenched tribal politics for the greater good.

  2. Rev. Dr. Lesley Carroll on

    Brian you say that a new approach is needed and I agree. That was my thinking when I posted this on my blog a few days ago.

    How we approach the issues that confront us will determine the outcome. Whether it be flags, parades, dealing with the past or one of the many other contested issues if we approach these matters as sites of conflict then we are not likely to get very far. Contested matters have long been thought of as sites of the conflict telling us that the troubles of the past are not gone. The old allegiances live on in every unresolved issue and the problem confronting Drs Haass and O’Sullivan present an opportunity to reach only measured compromise.

    But what if we were to change the approach?

    What if, across the board, political and civic leaders, members of civil society, victims and survivors, those aligned with ‘State forces’, former paramilitaries, everyone, were to decide that we have a problem to be solved?

    The trouble is that we have got stuck. If we come to our difficulties hoping to win a conflict then we are likely to remain stuck.

    If we were to agree that we genuinely don’t want to return to the old conflicts and were to focus on the future, then we can begin to approach the outstanding matters from the past as a problem to be solved – a common problem. The common problem is that the outstanding matters from the past are stalling the building of a shared, equitable, more reconciled future. Common willingness to address a common problem allows us to come to the issues with the possibility of it being in everyone’s interests to resolve matters is. No one is granted a veto and everyone is granted possibility.

    To approach the situation as a common problem is to address ourselves to the painstaking task of embedding a more peaceful future in which what happened in the past is less likely to happen all over again. It is also a way of lessening the feeling many have that they will not be considered. This problem belongs to everyone and when laid out in all its aspects will see what matters to everyone. But with this common problem the best that can be done will be done, for everyone will apply themselves to resolution rather than to winning or protecting themselves.

    In a problem solving approach the morality of what is done is upheld. It is morally right to apply ourselves to doing what we can to provide a society in which everyone can feel they have a part and are given the respect and consideration they deserve, whether that be the opportunity for employment or the opportunity of health services and recognition of injury, to name but two. It is morally right to build a society which enables rather than traps, a society driven by care for the vulnerable and the opportunity for everyone to achieve their potential. That morality is shackled when individuals and groups are focussed only on themselves, setting up a conflict dynamic. A problem solving approach also removes the chance for each to use the other as excuse or even veto on the process of moving away from conflict. The debate becomes focussed on what serves us all best rather than on what others permit or do not permit us to do.

    Will everything turn out perfectly if a problem solving approach is adopted? That is unlikely. We have lived through a depth of turmoil so dark and murky that categories of perfection are unlikely to apply for a very long time to come. It takes a while to ‘clean up our act’. In my view we have to be honest about that. What a problem solving approach offers is the opportunity for everyone to play their part in making the future that we persistently talk about – a future in which we are not dominated or threatened by the past but making a future in which our children and our children’s children will have no fear of violence, terror, domination, sectarianism and all the ensuing implications.

  3. Press the button now, Hass no deal, your not Nelson Mandela, There is a list looking to be Nelson 》》》》 Gerry Martin there wish list , jokers and clowns, you are the weakest link goodbye take the clowns with you one way ticket…

  4. Hass do you know of Kupler Ross, the 5 stages of grief, fear anger denial bargaining acceptance. Well NI still live in fear from the past emotional black mails- anger that those who killed for power got away with murder. Now 45 years later we are told to draw a line, move on, put it behind you, let it go… Bargaining thats why your here deals wishful thinking. Accepttance. Only accept》》》》 truth justice accountability. Then true peace will come, and godfathers taken to task hate heinous crimes, against men women, children babies….

  5. Its not his fault hass, them clowns invited him here to sort out their mess, it is the sign of weakness when ps/f Dup, can’t sort themselves out…

Leave A Reply