Saturday, 28 December 2013

The Haass Process

As Richard Haass and Megan O’Sullivan work to bring this current process to a conclusion it is clear that there will be no surprises. Many years ago the republican movement ceased to believe in the rapid achievement of its objectives by political or military means and settled instead for a process of progressive realisation. As a consequence that which is considered an agreement by other participants, whether Belfast Agreement, St Andrew’s Agreement or this latest attempt by Haass is considered to be a mere step in a process by republicans. Therein lies the source of unionist frustration in that republicans are always pressing for more where unionists are placed immediately on the defensive, having formerly tried to reach that final elusive agreement which allows us all to move on. That final agreement will not come, while Haass may resolve some issues unionists will know that whatever republicans fail to achieve this time will form the basis of future negotiations, future demands for concessions and again unionists will be presented as the intransigent partners. Unionist frustration will be intensified not only by the words and commitments as they appear in any Haass proposal but by the extensive reinterpretation of their meanings by republicans. One example to be released by those involved in the negotiations was the early call by Haass for the introduction of a Bill of Rights as agreed in the Belfast Agreement. That is a republican interpretation of the consideration of whether rights supplementary to the existing legislation, to take account of the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, was required. The subsequent process resulted in the development of, what some advocates considered to be, the most expansive Human Rights demands in the world. So what of this process which cannot give justice, cannot give truth, cannot solve the parades issue and may only provide for the flying of the Union Flag in limited circumstances. At best the victims of the conflict will have access to a support service worthy of the name, some victims may get some answers, both honourable objectives. At worst, hundreds of thousands of former soldiers and policemen will spend the rest of their lives waiting on a call to appear before a panel to be quizzed on where they were and who they were with 20, 30 or 40 years ago knowing that the only answer acceptable to republicans will be the rewriting of history. It was George Orwell’s narrative on the authoritarian government in his novel 1984 which stated “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed-if all records told the same tale-then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ The mantra, the objective and the authoritarian control are the same in fiction as in real life republican politics in Northern Ireland. Where now for unionists? Whatever the results of this process it is not the end there will be more negotiations. It is time for unionists to determine what it is they really want, what will get them on the front foot, what will put pressure on republicans or governments. Too many times we have entered the process on the defensive it is time to change the rules of the game.

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