07 January 2014
Below is a copy of the report presented by the Party Leader to the Officer team and unanimously by them, on the Haass talks.
DUP Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland
First I want to thank Dr Haass, Meghan O’Sullivan and their team for the countless hours spent assisting us move towards agreement on some very intractable issues. I also want to recognise the exhaustive work carried out by all the party delegations but particularly our own team. We are indebted to them for the many weeks of direct engagement and preparation. Considering this process also covered the holiday period we are exceptionally grateful for their sacrifice.
Contrary to ill-informed remarks by some in the media and within the process these Talks were set up after all five Executive parties agreed to the proposal in the Together: Building a United Community strategy that a specific Working Group was needed to consider the three unresolved issues of Parades, Flags and the Past. Again all five Executive parties agreed to appoint an independent chairperson to preside at the meetings and facilitate agreement. In addition all five parties chose Dr Richard Haass to be the Independent Chair of the all-party Panel which would comprise representatives from each of their parties.
Importantly the Terms of Reference required the Panel to:
“Bring forward a set of recommendations by the end of 2013 on parades and protests, symbols, emblems and related matters stemming from the past that will provide long-term and sustainable solutions that are in the best interests of this community and will make the peace more resilient going forward. In doing so the Group will seek the views of, and evidence from, interested stakeholders on how best to address the issues that cause community division.”
The first point to recognise is that the clear and indisputable responsibility to make recommendations, where agreement could be found, sat solely with the Panel and not Dr Haass. Consistent with this view both the DFM and I made public reference to the fact that failure would not be a failure on the part of Dr Haass but of our local parties.
I therefore resent the view expressed by a number of so-called political commentators that Dr Haass has in any way failed. Where there has been failure to reach agreement it lies at the feet of the political parties alone – and in equal measure.
I do not intend to “finger point” as a failure to reach an overall agreement rests upon us all and reflects the different positions held within the community. No party or person is entitled to second guess whether any proposal has sufficient merit for any other party. That is a judgement we each are elected to make given our individual mandates. Any party’s failure to agree to a proposal also reveals the failure of other parties to find a proposal capable of reaching wider agreement. This is self-evident and it’s the reason why I am not impressed by any party hectoring about how others are to blame.
Dr Haass has tried to reach the highest level of agreement among the parties but the document he submitted is not an agreed text from the all-party Panel. Rather it is his view of what might have gained the highest level of consensus.
While the final Haass document contains many propositions that the DUP can support and endorse there remain others that would neither be an improvement nor workable and would not help in resolving the problems they were crafted to solve. We are satisfied that the broad architecture is capable of housing long-term workable arrangements yet the detailed components as drafted which would determine how those structures would operate need much more work before they could function in the best interests of the community. However, we are not a party that throws in the towel and we shall continue to work to resolve outstanding issues. Unquestionably the work Dr Haass and his team have undertaken has narrowed the gap in a number of areas and our understanding of each party’s position will aid future negotiations.
At the final plenary of the Talks four of the five parties indicated they could not support the proposals in full and the other (though this later grew to two parties – without explanation) said it would while at the same time indicating that they disagreed with elements of the document.
As the Panel has, thus far, been unable to agree a set of recommendations the Terms of Reference have not been met. Also there appears, for a number of parties, to be a misapprehension that the parties were required to accept all or reject all of the Haass manuscript. Dr Haass tried – rightly in my view – to see if an all-encompassing agreement could be reached among the parties but it is evident that such high level agreement has not been reached by the parties.
So I agree with Dr Haass that the issues are of such importance that they need to be tackled now rather than later. I recommend to the Party Officers that the DUP support the proposal for an ongoing process and agree to set up an all-party Working Group to resolve outstanding areas of disagreement and implement agreements when identified.