Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Haass (Part 2)

Part 1 is hereThis second part addresses the Haass ‘analysis’ of Northern Ireland as articulated in a recent interview.  (Although, calling it the Haass analysis is a bit of an overstatement as he was not the first to use some of these arguments.)  It also explains his failure as the basis of his approach was based on outdated, outmoded and intellectually impoverished ideas of Northern Ireland and Unionism plus good old cliché.

Haass begins with:

“…there was a feeling that change would disadvantage them.”

First, Haass fails to notice the change that had occurred in the immediate run up to his talks had disadvantaged them. The design of the agenda was a rather obvious clue e.g. parades and flags. Second, we will deal with the cliché of ‘change’. Change can be good or bad, it can be progressive or regressive.  Blind acceptance of something simply because it is ‘change’ is dumb. Anyone with any sense assesses it and makes their judgement on what is proposed.  Third, in the last 20 years Northern Ireland has underwent a process of the most fundamental change.  When Unionists have seen value in it, they have agreed with it and worked it.  Fourth, it appears to assume Unionism is happy with the status quo and should be grateful for what isn’t changed.

Then we have:

I think the republicans and nationalists were more willing to entertain the possibility of change” 

Nationalism and republicanism were willing to entertain proposals on issues like the Maze when he offered them more than they had managed to get negotiated with Unionists or support his pet project.  If you give people what they want, it isn’t difficult to get their support.  However, it doesn’t help so much when you are trying to achieve a multi-lateral agreement that needs the buy-in from more than one section at the table.

However, these are matters are mere trifles compared with his poor choice of comparison.  He begins with the South African and De Klerk comparisons. Haass argues De Klerk:

…understood that the future of his country meant them giving up advantaged positions".

Haass’s analysis of De Klerk is legitimate if somewhat rose-tinted.  Apartheid was abhorrent and from its introduction it was on borrowed time.  Its basis was an idea that the world was systematically beginning to reject and would continue to do so.  It survived through the relative economic success of the country, the instability in Africa as the decolonisation processes often failed to establish genuine democracies and the Cold War.
The growth in the diplomatic strength of the developing world made it more difficult for Western democracies to quietly ignore the issue leading to sanctions.  This began to impair the economy but more importantly it combined with the culmination of the Cold War. 

Within South Africa, the ANC’s terrorist campaign was completely ineffectual.  However, maintaining control in the townships was a real problem.  Also within the townships, alternatives to the African National Congress were developing and they were as much the driving force behind the protests, riots and strikes in the 1980s.

These series of factors led to a debate within the highest echelons of the white community in South Africa.  Even within the Broederbund, the highly secretive  and powerful Afrikaner secret society that had driven apartheid, papers were circulating that apartheid’s days were numbered and the need to manage its end rather than allow collapse. 

The factors that had allowed apartheid to survive had gone or were rapidly disappearing.  If they waited much longer the potential partner on the black side, the ANC would not be in a position to deliver (arguably the position the Israelis found themselves in with the PLO).  There was enough consensus at a senior level and the broader white community that a managed process was much preferable to a collapse.  While the Western media fascinated on the likes of the AWB they often overlooked the plain fact that the clear and sustained majority of whites voted for De Klerk to negotiate the end to apartheid.  They knew collectively that the jig was up.

This is the first reason why the comparison with South Africa is a poor one.  Apartheid was an abhorrent system that’s time was unsustainable. The maintenance and development of the British Union state is not an abhorrent system. They are not comparable ideologies.  It would be like looking for answers to the challenges of modern social democracy by examining the Italian fascist state. 

The use of the South African comparison by some is not to provide something of use.  In the political mainstream, its primary purpose is to delegitimise Unionism.  For those who used terrorist violence, it was about the dehumanisation of Unionists and to legitimise their murder campaigns.  Reliance upon it by someone tasked to facilitate an agreement is thus unwise.

The second reason is South African comparisons tend to feed the MOPEry syndrome, a syndrome that sections of both communities are susceptible too.  Northern Ireland was not Apartheid South Africa.  Northern Ireland was not Nazi Germany.  Northern Ireland was not the Deep South of the USA.  It did have significant and far-reaching problems but the elevation of our problems to bad comparisons doesn’t help.  Reliance upon it by someone tasked to facilitate an agreement is thus unwise.

However, the greatest flaw in Haass’s analysis was this:

"Those who held the preponderance of power - and essentially that would be more the unionists backed by the British Government - needed to be willing to meet others at least halfway, and as of last December they were not, but again I would hope that a day will come when they will see it not only in their collective interest but also in their more narrow interests."

First, Unionist political power was based on the 1921-72 parliaments.  Unionism was stripped of political power in 1972.  As an Alliance politician once correctly pointed out Unionism had gone from a position of supreme power to the place where the Lord Mayor of Belfast couldn’t change a bulb in a lamp-post, or a more recent example, can’t keep the national flag on City Hall.  In 2014, Unionist access to political power comes at the price of a system of communal protections and being in government with the people who murdered us for over three decades.  This is not a situation of privilege, ascendancy or domination.  Thus Haass is using an analysis that is 42 years out of date.

Second, is the belief that the London government was on Unionism’s side is best responded to as ROFLMAO.  It is based on the lazy assumption that the state and Unionists interests are always the same.  It fails to recognise the potential divergence of interest in a unitary state such as the UK. 

There are also multiple examples of how this is simply not the case - the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the secret messages to the Provos asking London to be spared bombs, the no selfish strategic interest declaration, the Framework Documents and Downing Street Declarations (Unionism has had to spend years talking London down from), Blair perpetual desire to be over-generous to Sinn Fein, institutional discrimination in police recruitment, the ‘invisible’ OTR scheme etc etc. 
A government paper of a British–Irish exchange from 20 years ago when some civil servant raised ‘What about the Unionists’ was about as far as it went and even then it usually resulted in a proposal watered down rather than stopped.  In the modern era, Unionism did and does not have an external political protector. Thus Haass is using an analysis that is too simplistic, contradicted by the available evidence and misreads the power relationships.

Now, perhaps an expectation of being up with historical detail and realities is somewhat unfair.  However, an ignorance of the basics of politics is not, even for a career diplomat. The logical conclusion of this argument is that it is Unionism’s ‘leadership’ role to feed its political base a series of shit sandwiches and tell them to not only endure it but to enjoy it.  Now the machinations of London, Dublin and Nationalism would be so much easier if Unionism were like this.  However, it will not be the basis of strategic or electoral success for Unionism or a functioning prosperous Northern Ireland.


Haass is not alone in holding these type of views.  It is a common view among officialdom in London, Dublin and many of those who inhabit or inhabited the quangocracy.  It is the core ideology of the Northern Ireland Office to this day, which a weak Secretary of State invariably crumbles to (as the Parades panel U-turn demonstrated).  The prevalence of it is why those Unionist and Loyalists who think Direct Rule is the answer are plain wrong.  Under that system, this is what would be driving our rulers with no checks or balances.

It even had a voice in Unionism early on in the peace process. Norman Porter essentially advocated a reductionist Unionism.  Its premise was as long as Northern Ireland remained part of the UK then nothing else really mattered.  Unionists don’t want to live in such a soulless place.

I define this thinking as ‘minoritarianism’. 

Essentially, Northern Ireland will be shaped and designed to satisfy the interests of the minority only.  It is the mirror image of the majoritarianism of 1921-72 except Nationalism is to be the beneficiary not Unionism.  This ideology/groupthink is progressed in the areas that Unionists have no say or highly restricted influence e.g. NIO, PSNI/Judicial system, the quangocracy (especially equality and good relations) and local government were Unionists are not in control.  This is why the anti-Unionist identity agenda has been progressed at these levels and not through the devolved institutions.

Now this ideology is not limited to Northern Ireland.  In most western democracies, the growing diversity within our societies has led to similar approaches where the focus is upon the needs, preferences, desires and wishes of the minorities. Minority ethnic groups had and do have legitimate needs but sections of the left and so called liberals (often middle class whites) went beyond that to attack mainstream identity. 

In the past few decades while the right were generally winning the economic arguments, the left were generally winning the social ones.  In a Northern Ireland context, this meant they either had common cause with Nationalism’s identity agenda or they fulfilled the role of useful fools.  The results are the same.

Your average Unionist and Loyalist wonders why the treatment meted out to them does not receive much of a hearing or sympathy.  This commonality in approach and ideology means this type of behaviour in Northern Ireland has been conditioned into people both here and further afield as ‘normal’ and thus to be accepted.

This ‘minoritarianism’ has contributed to ever larger swathes of people feeling utterly disconnected with politics and public life across Europe.  It has not and will not prove healthy neither for our societies nor our democracies whether it is Germany, France, Great Britain or Northern Ireland.

In all this there is an underpinning attitude that Unionism is some sort of political lab rat that is expected to sit there while others experiment on how much it will take.  This ‘lab rat’ does not know its own interests. Everyone knows better than it.  This is certainly a superior attitude with the clear risk it becomes a supremacist attitude.

Northern Ireland rejected majoritarianism as a workable system.  Its mirror image of minoritarianism is equally unworkable.  Condescension or worse dismissal of Unionism is not a methodology for building productive or sustainable relationships.  Unionism and Unionists have interests and needs that they can identify, wish to legitimately pursue and satisfy.  Northern Ireland works best when both political communities buy in not just one.  The disturbing thing is such basics need both to be repeated and more importantly accepted.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Haass (Part 1)

Richard Haass has recently done another interview on the failure of the Haass process. In it he blames Unionism for the failure of the talks.  This piece is to make the case that the failure of the process lay closer to home than he presents.  It lay in the internal dynamics of those talks. 

The basis of the article is based on my personal experiences of the Haass talks.  My role was primarily the administrative support for the DUP team (hence why in TV footage and press photographers I could be occasionally seen trailing in behind the delegation).   This role meant I attended nearly every bilateral the DUP had with Haass and O’Sullivan, other parties and most of the multi-laterals too as well as see each draft of the Haass document.  One function was keeping a near verbatim record of these meetings.  This function meant I had a duality of role of participant and observer.

Before turning to Haass and his talks strategy I must address did I believe the parties were up for an agreement?  Yes, they were.  I believe the SDLP, SF and UUP were genuine in attempts to come to an agreement.  Alliance were playing another game.  There was a meeting in which there was almost a lightbulb moment.  In part of the process, the parties were asked to meet in multi-lateral format without the involvement of Haass or O’Sullivan.  In a series of exchanges at these meetings, each party came away with the impression that parties were mutually up for an agreement.   Then the process moved on in earnest to the Haass drafts. 

With Haass my impression was different.  There were three areas of concern. First, it was clear he was uncomfortable with the agenda.  If you read his books (often co-written with Meghan O’Sullivan) he favours highly complex, wide ranging and inter-related/dependent agreements to resolve conflicts.  The limited agenda seemed to grate and he pushed against it.  It was too ‘small’ for him.  This agenda had been specifically constructed and negotiated.  So by pushing against this he was undermining the basis of the talks. The agenda was more of a Unionist success than a Nationalist one so he was undermining himself with Unionism.

Second, in discussions (and later reflected in the drafts) he was only truly intellectually engaged around the past and not parades or flags.  This disinterest in key issues for Unionism was not helpful.  His colleague, Meghan O’Sullivan did grasp the identity concerns of Unionism better. This was perhaps because she had been the one directly involved in the civic and community engagement part of the process and spent more time here.  Interestingly on a small number of occasions Haass silenced interventions by O’Sullivan during multi-laterals, interventions that in my assessment would have been helpful.

Third, Haass is a significant figure on the diplomatic and foreign relations field.  These three issues were not going to set the world alight and on occasion he would comment on their smallness.  Perspective and challenge are part of the process but it reinforced the sense of disinterest. At the same time major situations were developing in Syria.  Places that would be perfect opportunities for his conflict resolution model.  He wrote on the topic at the time.  He did communicate a sense of frustration he’d ended up in the backwater when big decisions had to be made.  The difficulty this contributed too was his desire for product was seen as much as so he could get out of here as it was to produce a quality product. 

Beyond this there was the personal.  When many hear diplomat they tend to think soft, malleable etc.  Haass is an intelligent, formidable and tough figure.  In Peter Robinson he got as good as he gave. 

There was also the leaking of the early drafts.  The general suspicion was this was the UUP (It wasn’t us.  The DUP culture is of reluctant leakers.  This is based in the belief that if you have an easy  culture of leaking then everything flows out not just the advantageous). If it was the UUP, the intention seemed to be to embarrass us with ideas that Unionism didn’t like.  However, it actually made our work easier.  When Haass had raised them we had stated their unacceptability, unworkability etc and when leaked often the public reaction to them proved our point.  Haass was frustrated by this especially as a pet project he was fascinated by didn’t fly.

So as the process began in earnest there was some deterioration in terms of his relationship with Unionism in the talks but not to levels that wholly undermined it. The early drafts had a core structure and a direction of travel as various pieces were removed or added.  In the days before Christmas my assessment would have been a deal was possible though not yet in probable territory (although I am one of life's pessimists).  Bi-laterals with UUP, SDLP and SF had progressed reasonably.  However, Haass considered more of the changes to the drafts to be in Unionism’s favour and angered we were still fighting him on a number of issues.

This culminated in a distinct shift in strategy.  As Christmas day approached a new draft was produced.  On reading it my assessment went from possible to nil chance of an agreement before Christmas. It was a break from the previous drafts in content and the result was the Christmas Eve talks were a disaster with the meeting ending without it determined whether or not Haass would return. The new strategy was to create a grouping of Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance with the aim of pressurising Unionism. This critically injured the process in three ways.

First, a negotiation is about trying to ensure the interests of the different parties are sufficiently met.  This adoption of a pressurisation strategy reinforced the perception that Haass was more focused on production of product that a product that served sufficiently the needs of the parties. Perhaps Haass’s dealings earlier on the peace process with the UUP made him believe that Unionism buckled under pressure.  It was not an approach that was going to work with the DUP.  It also reinforced the relationship within the talks between the UUP and DUP.  The atmosphere shifted distinctly to us v them as opposed to people seeking an agreement.

Second, Haass had continually said that the talks were between the parties not with him.  However, the shift in strategy made that to be a fallacy.  Matters that had not been previously raised in bi-laterals appeared in this document.  His new strategy effectively created a three party v two party dynamic that essentially killed the bi-laterals between parties. 

Third, it also gave Alliance an over-inflated role in the process that proved unhelpful as some within it were playing a different game than trying to reach an agreement.  Haass hadn't picked this up but they too were subject to his anger in the immediate aftermath when they rejected it as well. 

At its core, Haass had made a bold shift in terms of his negotiation strategy and targeted one section that his relationship was already uneasy with.  It was a move that backfired and failed.  He may choose to blame those that his failed strategy was aimed at but perhaps he should consider some more self-reflection.

Part 2 In the second part I will examine Haass’s use of the South African analogy etc.