‘A SEAT BUT NOT THE CHAIR – Brokenshire and the next legacy battle’ – By Brian Rowan

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The post-election negotiations have yet another issue on the agenda – the position of chair for the next talks on the past.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire is now part of that tug-of-war – the withholding of funding for legacy inquests and his commentary on conflict investigations casting him in the role of player rather than facilitator.

“London is disqualified because of Brokenshire’s behaviour,” Alex Attwood of the SDLP told this website – a position he has relayed to the Irish Government.

Several days ago, Sinn Fein’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill told BBC The View that she did not consider the Secretary of State “an honest broker” and agreed someone external would be “preferable” as chair.

Unionists disagree.

“We tried an international Chair before in the form of Richard Haass and it just didn’t work,” DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told eamonnmallie.com.

“They weren’t knowledgeable enough on the issues,” Donaldson continued – this a barrier he believed in trying to craft language and proposals that would achieve consensus.

“In contrast, the previous Secretary of State [Theresa Villiers] succeeded where Haass failed in securing the Stormont House Agreement and it is this accord that now needs to be taken forward,” Donaldson said.

“Therefore, the current Secretary of State is the right person to chair further talks. Any other option could result in a chair without the corporate knowledge needed to ensure competency and [could]lead to a rapid unravelling of the Stormont House proposals.”

Those proposals are for a Historical Investigations Unit, an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval, an Implementation and Reconciliation Group and Oral History Archive.

That agreement has since become a disagreement in arguments over British National Security and the withholding of information.

Loyalists have not been involved in negotiations and it is far from clear how the loyalist groups and the IRA would cooperate with any legacy process.

The SDLP believes the chair, or chairs, of future legacy talks should be tasked with determining what the quality and character of engagement with that process will be.

On the question of who should chair those talks, party leader Colum Eastwood told this website:

“There is no way that he [Brokenshire] can be in a position to chair the legacy element of any talks given his very partisan and public views on these issues.

We need an independent chair so that we can finally create the structures that will allow victims and survivors to find a path to truth and justice.”

Sinn Fein met Brokenshire on Monday and in a statement this evening reiterated its position.

But Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott said Brokenshire should chair the talks:

“I don’t see why he wouldn’t. He’s the Secretary of State,” Elliott commented.

He said the Stormont House proposals were not an agreement – “more a framework”.

So, could Brokenshire achieve that agreement?

“He probably has as much chance as anybody else,” Elliott responded.

Legacy consultations and talks have stretched across the past decade. Now, more discussions will follow the March 2 election – the latest negotiations trying to find an answer to a question that thus far has proved impossible.
And, before the talking, there is that new issue to be settled – the position of chair; Brokenshire or someone else?


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.

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