Haass Talks Always Doomed to Failure

Alex Kane with a piece on the Haass talks that first featured in the the Irish News on 10 January 10, 2014 and reproduced with the author's permission.

In my last column—December 27—I wrote:

Good though he is, Haass won’t be able to sidestep the thumping, depressing reality of political business here. Yes, you can negotiate a compromise between warring factions who disagree on fundamentals but you cannot do it with parties who despise each other, who don’t want to govern together and who have no common ambitions for the future of the country. Again, the best we can hope for is conflict stalemate rather than conflict resolution. So, thanks for coming Dr Haass and Professor O’Sullivan. Thanks for trying. But turn your attention elsewhere now.

The best he could ever have hoped to serve up was cold, brittle, and almost impossible to unwrap fudge. But he couldn’t even manage that, even though Mike Nesbitt was telling anyone who would listen (although he seemed to be trapped in a revolving door at the time he was telling them) that a deal was '80% to 90% over the line.' As it turned out Mike couldn’t even get one percent over the line with his party executive, who dumped the whole document and accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of creating a mess. The fact that the UUP was a willing player in the game and, consequently, part of the collective mess was, it seems, neither here nor there.

Anyway, in the best tradition of their approach to creating a shared future the parties then took it in turns to share out the blame for failure. It turned into a very bizarre case of Sherlock Holmes meets Cluedo: a deal had been found clubbed to death in a hotel room and all five suspects blamed each other. But whodunit? Ms Long, in the library, with a wooden cliché? Mr Adams, in the lobby, with a decommissioned mantra? Mr Nesbitt, in the dining room, with a rusting autocue? Dr McDonnell, in the lounge, with a gigantic placebo? Mr Donaldson, in the reception area, with a weighted soapbox? Or, Mr Bryson, in the toilet, with a blunt excrement?

Peter Robinson — doing what he likes to do best — blamed the media and ‘a number of so-called political commentators.’ Yep, it was our fault. He couldn’t understand what failure we were referring to. He couldn’t understand why everyone had got the wrong end of the stick. Dr Haass hadn’t failed. Well, if Dr Haass’s brief was to draw together a set of principles upon which all of the parties could agree then he failed to do it. He admitted as much at his final press conference. So yes, Mr Robinson, Dr Haass failed. The process was a failure. The outcome was a failure. What part of ‘didn’t do what he came to do’ does the First Minister not understand?

That said, it’s not Dr Haass’s fault. There was no chance of getting a deal. There was never a chance of getting a deal. Ten thousand monkeys with ten thousand keyboards have more chance of producing a literary masterpiece in the style of Tolstoy than our five parties have of reaching a deal that would withstand contact with the first question from a passing journalist. None of the parties wanted a deal, anyway: they simply wanted a piece of paper with a few key words (progress, commitment, future et al) wrapped in enough ambiguity to fool most of the people for as long as it took Dr Haass to reach America again.

What happens now? Nothing. Sinn Fein tried to sound reasonable by accepting the deal (even though they knew that most of it would be destroyed during the legislative process) but the DUP told them to get lost. The DUP tried to sound reasonable on Tuesday (let’s set up a working group blah blah blah) but Sinn Fein told them to get lost. Both sets of voters will be delighted by this result and neither party will suffer at the polls.

The SDLP and UUP don’t need to be told by anyone to get lost, having achieved that all by themselves. Nobody cares what they think because nobody knows what they think. There isn’t even a Rosetta Stone to decipher their opinions. Alliance, meanwhile, morphed into the political equivalent of a whoopee cushion and made very curious noises when asked to explain their exact position on Haass. Talking out of it seemed to sum it up best.

New year and precisely the same old problems. The 2014-16 election cycle has now begun, so it’ll be another three years before anyone tries to breathe life into the Haass proposals again. Thank goodness.


  1. Alex,

    very witty presentation of it in the round. Laughed at Inspector Cluedo!

  2. Is there anyone else struck by the irony of, what Brian Feeney used to call the NIO front party, now, with c. 8% of electoral support, half the next smallest party, the unionist Alliance party have stalled the process they sought from their civil servant friends in Castle Buildings?
    It may be just the frightened DUP/OUP trying to halt their almost imperceptible progress by whinging about their dominating role in the failure to progress matters in this part of Ireland but, I think the good professor and Dr. will be as well off out of these dreary steeples.

  3. With a war of words about to start in public on Monday night when Ian Paisley makes claims against Peter Robinson on TV it is looking like a two camp DUP instead of one which will make a deal more harder to attain-

    Alex Kane helped to over-see the decline of the UUP-and what a good job he did-now he tries to give the rest of us advice about politics-bless-

  4. 'Blunt excrement' Yes very amusing, but alas none of this frivolity has anything to do with the title of the article.

    The answer is quite simple - the reason for continued failure is lack of any class analysis. That's not off course an oversight, why would you ask the former Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State to be the broker if your intention was to actually sort out the real problem?

  5. The political parties will lose votes and seats if they actually attempt a solution in the North. It is a case of waiting for the next outsider/scapegoat to be selected to get them all off the political hook and preserve their jobs again in the future. That is where these guys are, scapegoating well meaning fools from abroad to save their jobs. Any genuine attempt at progress would see the electorate vote them all out. The people deserve what they get in that scenario do they not?