What changed at Haass talks?

Operating Room''Accident and Emergency, A+E, A&E, Hospital.
Operating Room''Accident and Emergency, A+E, A&E, Hospital.

On the last day of what I predicted would be toxic negotiations, Martin McGuinness said ‘not doing a deal would be embarrassing’.

Jeffrey Donaldson, the custodian of unionist interests, spoke of it ‘being disappointing should a deal elude the parties’.

Caught in a revolving door, Mike Nesbitt threw away his hand when asked could the deal be done and said, ‘I don’t see why not.’

So it was great relief to me when what was of no value or gain for unionists collapsed in failure – or so it seemed, until London moved quickly along with Dublin to jointly support a post-Haass initiative.

The governments were once again enticing unionists to take the next short step over the line into an even more dangerous process for unionism than that attempted by Haass.

From the moment Haass injected a fast-track for compromises, unionists were in trouble. The agenda was hi-jacked by republicans. Unionists at the talks were snared, yet they chose foolishly to remain at the table. The ‘truth’ is from day one they weren’t tough enough. In agreeing as much as they did, the 90 per cent buy-in, they were actually being hung out to dry. But according to DUP and UUP spin, they saved the day.

It was strange then that it took seven re-writes of an original draft before the unionist negotiators thought the day was in need of saving.

The DUP and UUP parties need to explain to the rest of us : why did it take seven attempts before rejection kicked in? What did they agree to when agreeing to 90 per cent of the final draft paper? How exposed have they left the pro-British people and to what extent are republicans and nationalists feeling they can exploit the weaknesses in unionism exposed and opened up by these negotiations?

Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, and I submitted a lengthy written response to Dr Haass. At a follow-up meeting in the Europa Hotel Belfast I made our position clear. UKIP would not tolerate any attempt to tamper with or diminish Northern Ireland’s Britishness. I said that “until the Union Flag is reinstated at Belfast City Hall, until the Orange lodges of Portadown and Ligoniel Districts are free to walk home, and until there is an acceptable definition of a victim – only then can talks commence”.

My point then to Haass was that it was the real process blockers in Alliance, Sinn Fein and SDLP who took the flag down, who agreed with the lodges being prevented from completing their journey and who would not recognise the definition of an innocent victim.

My point now today is: what has changed at the talks? Did Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP all agree to putting back the flag, all agree to the lodges walking to their respective halls and all agree to the definition of a victim?

If they did not, then ‘NO TALKS’ must be the policy until these real blockers of genuine progress remove their stop lines on flags, walks and definitions.

David McNarry MLA

UKIP leader

Stormont Assembly