The reason the British handed over responsibilty to Haass for the contentious matters is that there is no answer to the questions which unionists will accept
THREE weeks to go to Richard Haass‘s self-imposed deadline of Christmas. Unless, of course, it’s a misunderstanding and he’s talking about a different Christmas. Do you give him any chance of coming up with agreed proposals on flags, parades and the past? No? Nor does anyone else.
There are several worrying consequences about the current process some of which have already been looked at here. First, even if Haass were miraculously to pull even one rabbit out of his hat, legislation would be required. To further complicate it, the matter’s he’s concerned with all involve UK legislation at least. In the case of deaths and injuries during the Troubles the Irish government would have to be involved too. With the unionist parties already jostling each other about European election candidates, will they support the necessary legislation during the election campaign? No. As the British coalition government sees the election scheduled for May 7 2015 rushing ever closer the DUP will become more important. The treacherous lily-livered Lib-Dems will finally start to break away and oppose some Conservative legislation, particularly on economic and EU matters. Together with the Labour party they might defeat the Conservatives on some issues.
This is where the eight DUP MPs come in. Last week they were able to help the Conservatives defeat a backwoods Tory rebellion on plans to recruit reservists to replace full-time soldiers in return for raising the cap on numbers of recruits from the north. Watch the DUP come to David Cameron‘s rescue in 2014-5 if he dangles a bauble in frount of them. Even if Haass came up with something the parties at Stormont agree on, don’t expect it to go through Westminster unscathed. However, don’t hold your breath. The reason the British handed over responsibility to Haass for the contentious matters is that there is no answer to the questions which unionists will accept. It’s perfectly obvious that on the flags issue unionist leaders are too weak, cowardly and hypocritical to support a rational solution to flags on public buildings. Their hypocrisy stares them in the face every day at Stormont. As for anything vertical in unionist districts, there is no solution. It would be a cat and mouse operation with the police running around after loyalist squads replacing flags the police removed. Unionists do not accept the concept of a neutral space. They want to own Norn Irn. After all, didn’t the British give it them? Now they’re asking them to share it with Fenians on an equal footing. Hah.
There are wider consequences. Past experience has shown that only Westminister-legislated change will bring unionists to heel whether it was the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement or the 1998 Public Processions Act. This time there’ll be no Westminster legislation because Cameron might need the DUP in the short term. It’s not the first time a British government has bolstered unionist intransigence and it won’t be the last. It dosn’t matter what colour the government is; it depends on the proconsul for the time being. Peter Hain had little to recommend him but at least his threats of joint rule with Dublin or carving Norn Irn into three sub-regions concentrated unionst minds. This present government’s detachment and the rudderless performance of the present proconsul is sending republicans a dangerous message that unionists have a veto on all change, that Stormont as presently constituted does not function as a vehicle for change. The establishment of Haass as arbiter is not only evidence of British (and Irish) disengagement but is proof that by default they encourage unionist intransigence.The plain fact is that if unionists don’t like what Haass proposes they will be allowed to reject it and Sinn Fein can do nothing about it. Haass is there only because of the failure of the two governments to confront unionist resistance to change and their continual refusal to live on equal terms with the rest of the people on this island by recognising the legitimacy of the symbols and Irish identity of those in the north. The appointment of Haass is further evidence of Sinn Fein’s inadequacy as negotiators and their failure to see the big picture. The DUP is running rings aroud them.
With many thanks to: Brian Feeney, The Irish News.
- Unionists reject Haass’s proposal for a new Northern Ireland flag (newsletter.co.uk)
- Unionists regret US envoy Haass’ call for new flag for Northern Ireland (VIDEO) (irishcentral.com)
- Find a neutral flag for all of Northern Ireland: Richard Haass issues challenge to parties (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- Haass asks political parties for views on new NI flag (newsletter.co.uk)
- Richard Haass in new talks as process reaches a key stage (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)