For most of the turbulent summer just past, prominent politicians have deflected difficult questions with a variant of the phrase “that will be an issue for the upcoming Haass talks”.
In statement after statement and interview after interview, parties expressed their hope that Richard Haass’s presence would help them overcome previously intractable disputes.
Yet within days of the US diplomat landing in Northern Ireland, many politicians are now steadfastly playing down expectations of the process reaching a breakthrough by they deadline they set for it in December.
This week the DUP has been particularly careful to reduce anticipation, with the UUP not far behind in urging caution.
Peter Robinson emerged from his party’s first meeting with Dr Haass on Wednesday to say that progress could be achieved by Christmas but he did not believe that there would be a deal.
Mr Robinson, already under pressure from a section of his party, faces particular pressure in such a scenario for it was he, acting jointly with Martin McGuinness, who set up the talks process. With many DUP supporters having assumed that the talks will bring an end to the Parades Commission, failure to find a resolution will be difficult to explain. Yet in the absence of agreement by Christmas, any extension of the process would bring it perilously close to the May European election.
Yet Dr Haass is potentially one of those most instinctively sympathetic to unionism in a talks process discussing the legacy of the Troubles, given his fierce opposition to terrorism and past clashes with Sinn Fein.
It is perhaps indicative of the lack of confidence within unionism that it is therefore nationalists urging a deal before the Haass chairmanship ends in December.