Haass process may be parked until after poll

Morning View
Morning View

It was all but inevitable that following the breakdown of the Haass talks there would be recriminations between the five parties involved.

In fact, in the days following the New Year’s Eve collapse of the process without agreement, there was less acrimony than might have been expected, leading some to believe that the negotiations were not quite without life.

But over the last fortnight the parties have sounded increasingly defensive and aggressive as each attempts to defend its actions during the process and shift the blame for failure to rivals.

It now appears that with elections looming in May, the parties are moving from private discussions which might have led to consensus and compromise to a public staking out of positions in an attempt to secure, or at least not lose, votes.

The collapse of the Haass process does not reflect well on any of the parties. The involvement of a senior US diplomat in a process which ended without even the pretence of a fudged agreement will hardly convince those in power in London, Washington and elsewhere about Northern Ireland’s future stability.

Against such a backdrop, yesterday’s meeting of the five main party leaders was always likely to be more about attempts to gain ammunition for the blame game than for a realistic attempt to suddenly resolve the issues under discussion. Martin McGuinness’s statement, in the wake of those talks, that unionist leaders need to state whether they support or oppose the Haass proposals is disingenuous. He knows that unionism has overwhelmingly rejected the Haass proposals accepted by nationalists. Yet both main unionist parties have, rightly, not walked away from the process and have made clear their willingness to continue to seek durable resolutions on flags, parades and the Troubles.

Perhaps an agreement this side of an election is unrealistic. But if that is the case the parties should set out their principles for a future negotiation and, with the mandate of an election behind them, resume the process in the summer.