Richard Haass’s visit to Dublin on Thursday caused little comment at the time.
But yesterday a former senior Ulster Unionist figure who was central to the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement accused the US diplomat of having breached the terms of the historic accord by discussing flags, parades and the past with the Taoiseach.
Lord Kilclooney — who, as John Taylor, was UUP deputy leader during the 1998 talks that led to the Agreement — said he was dismayed at how today’s DUP and Ulster Unionist leaders had made no complaint about Dr Haass discussing with Dublin issues which the Agreement precludes Dublin from being involved in.
Although no longer a prominent political figure, Lord Kilclooney’s comments are significant because they come from someone who firmly supported the Agreement. In his diaries, Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell described the then-UUP deputy leader’s signal that the party was serious about the talks as a “defining moment” on the road to reaching agreement.
Yesterday Lord Kilclooney — who now sits in the House of Lords as a Crossbench peer — told the News Letter: “The success of the Belfast Agreement was that it had three strands: (1) Northern Ireland internal affairs; (2) North/South affairs and (3) East/West affairs.
“In connection with Strand One the chairman, Senator George Mitchell, ensured that the Dublin Government was totally excluded from all discussions and had absolutely no role in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.
“This structure of the Belfast Agreement and the principles inherent in the negotiations were firmly upheld by David Trimble and the UUP negotiating team.
“This week Dr Richard Haass has breached these principles by going to Dublin to discuss with the government there the internal affairs of Northern Ireland such as flags; marches, et cetera.
“This is a shameful violation of the underlying principles of the Belfast Agreement by Dr Haass and it sends out a warning message to the unionist and loyalist majority in Northern Ireland.” Lord Kilclooney said that unionists should “treat Dr Haass with caution from here on in”.
The TUV leader, Jim Allister, also criticised the involvement of the Irish government in the talks process.
Mr Allister said that the Agreement principle that Dublin should not be involved in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland had been “broken in the Haass talks as he was discussing Northern Ireland’s internal affairs (flags, parades, etc) in Dublin” and added: “How do people believe that discussions with a foreign government will help to ease loyalist fears about their identity and sovereignty and why have the DUP and UUP agreed to such a process?”
Yesterday Dr Haass defended his trip to Dublin. Asked about the unionist criticism, he said: “The government of Ireland has unique and important obligations and interests in the future of Northern Ireland... anyone in my shoes who did not avail himself of their insights would be foolish.”
He added: “No one should read into my going to Dublin or London or anywhere else any sort of political agenda. It’s just part of my consulting broadly.”
And last night the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson strongly defended Dr Haass’s visit to Dublin. He told the News Letter: “In dealing with the legacy of the past we have to recognise that the Irish government has many questions to answer.
“I’m amazed that any unionist would suggest otherwise when you consider that for years unionist politicians declared that the Irish Republic was a safe haven for IRA terrorists, that it failed to honour obligations to extradite terrorists and allegations of collusion between individuals in the Irish Republic’s state forces and the IRA.
“It is essential that the Irish government is held to account on these issues. How anyone can seriously suggest that the Irish government be let off the hook... beggars belief.”
However, he said Dublin should not be involved in talks on parades or flags.