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Haass talks debacle

Decay of the Irish Peace process accelerates.

31 December 2013

The debacle of the Haass talks collapse, on the early morning of New Year’s Eve, marked a growing instability in local political structures. The talks were supposed to settle conflicts in the Irish peace process and their outcome was somewhat obscured by a persistent failure to tell Irish workers anything about their contents and by a torrent of lies from the British and Irish media, talking the negotiations up while the talks were ongoing and suggesting after the fall that the collapse contained elements of progress. 

The failure marks a major fracture in the Irish peace process and an acceleration of its decay. This decay is occurring despite continued popular support for the process and a very weak opposition, concentrated mainly in the ranks of physical force republicanism. The failure to arrive at an agreement is entirely the outcome of the internal contradictions within the settlement that ensure its ongoing decay. This is underlined when we realize that a successful outcome would merely have rebooted the local political assembly of a year ago – totally unable to carry out any serious political or administrative work and dedicated to the sectarian division of resources.

In fact the talks failed some time ago. They failed within hours of opening when it became clear that the unionists would not agree to a compromise on the burning issue of flags.

The flags issue, presented as an issue of cultural rights, involves widespread public intimidation with legal impunity, large sectarian mobilisations with the threat of violence and a background of physical attacks on Catholics. It is by far the most urgent issue with a new marching season on the way and the continued threat of serious violence. None of this made unionists willing to accept any restrictions on the welding of this sectarian weapon. Although formulations were offered on parades the unionist were again unwilling to consider any form of restriction on the sectarian rights of the marches.

The vast bulk of the Haass talks were been taken up by attempts to cobble together a statement that would cover this failure. The document was reworded again and again, with the nationalist parties indicating their willingness to sign almost anything and the unionists looking for endless concessions.

The talks had been presented as dealing with issues unresolved by the peace process. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is at issue is unionist rejection of the existing agreement. It was the DUP, the majority party in the local administration, that organised and led the flag demonstrations that sparked off the current crisis. The tearing up of a deal to have a peace centre at the old H-block site meant an end to DUP leader Robinson's claims of a strategy of pragmatism and a renewed assertion of sectarian privilege.

The fact is that the final draft was the last of seven, all amended to meet unionist objections and excluding all the immediate questions that were supposed to be resolved, means that the unionists were unable to sign a document that they must largely have written themselves. It indicates the extent to which the settlement rests on a unionist veto and the extent to which that veto reaches every area of politics. Yet the unionists were unable to take full advantage of their veto. Unionism is so fragile, fragmented and unstable that no-one dares stand forward and agree to anything less than total supremacy

The reality that the nationalist parties and, in the background, the Irish government and the imperialist powers of the U.S. and U.K., were willing to concede to the unionists is of real significance, as are the cries of alarm from the moderate unionist Alliance party. The grounds of debate have moved from an imaginary "equality of the two traditions" to a division of sectarian rights. The unionists don’t accept that there is any need to concede anything to nationalists and want to assert supremacy.  Capitalism is willing to go along with this if it offers a stable solution, no matter how sectarian or unjust. 

In the absence of any voices raised to assert an Irish democracy and a socialist alternative, further debate will rest on the ground carved out by the unionists during the Haass talks. The attempts to placate the Orange monster cannot succeed and will eventually bring the current house of cards crashing to the ground.


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