The Haass talks failed to find agreement over the festive period, despite the considerable efforts of all involved. Progress was made and work remains to be done to build on the areas of consensus. They may yet prove to be another step in the peace process. The process as a whole is a reminder that politicians don’t hold the answers. So what can we learn – here are my personal thoughts.
- The wrong issues The talks were about important issues, but did not deal with many of the day-to-day concerns. We need an education system that allows our children to be educated together. We need more creativity, entrepreneurship and private enterprise leading to more and better jobs. We need to discuss the positives of the past that will shape our values going forward – like generosity and hospitality. Our politicians do wrestle with these issues, but the other can too easily distract.
- Parades and Protests Haass basically proposed splitting the current parades commission’s responsibilities in two. This has merit as far as it goes, but the church must now ask serious questions about its role in parades. My primary citizenship is in the kingdom and I find no biblical merit for them. In a free society, I respect the right of others to parade, but I fail to see how it sits easily with worshipping Jesus. So have your parades, but not in my name.
- Flags and Emblems Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and flags should be flown on all official buildings on designated days as in most of the rest of the UK. This will be too much for some nationalist–controlled councils and too little for some unionist-controlled councils, but that is compromise. The alternative, which essentially happens now, is to allow each council to do what the majority wants. There should be significant restrictions on displaying flags and emblems in public spaces – the current situation disrespects ‘the other’ and the very flags being flown as they often end up ripped and tatty.
- The Past The talks seem to have come closest to consensus on this issue. Attorney General John Larkin’s proposals to put a line on further prosecutions were largely criticised by our politicians, but almost everyone I have spoken to thinks there is some merit in the proposals. Sir Kenneth Bloomfield (1998) made the case for a more universal approach to victimhood in Northern Ireland. Everyone has suffered because of the conflict in Northern Ireland, including those born since the Agreement. No single group of victims should have a veto over the process. There must also be caution in the use of the terms ‘innocent victims’ and ‘moral equivalence’. From a Christian perspective, all life is precious because we are all made in the image of God. But no one is completely innocent – without any guilt. These points are not made to level the playing field between victims and perpetrators, but to acknowledge our shared humanity. We must also find new language beyond victimhood. Survivor is a start, but identity is still centred around a tragic event which defines that person. People are more than the events they’ve lived through and the acts committed by or against them. The Church has a key role to play as a place of healing and restoration, a place of new beginnings, identities and relationships. You can’t be a victim and healA J Langer
- Forefathers (and mothers) Many of our forefathers are long since dead but their grievances live on, profoundly shaping the culture of our entire community. There is a deep fear of betraying the past – those who sacrificed their lives for ‘the cause’. But we are forefathers (and mothers) ourselves. It’s time for new sacrifices to be made. These new sacrifices will also cost us our lives – not in the sense of death but a completely new way of living.
- Process and Politicians Haass almost immediately subverted his terms of reference by inviting submission from any interested party or person. He received over 600 (I was part of EA’s). Though not yet successful in this process, the idea of seeking solutions outside of the political process was a good one. Civil society has a role to play and the church through its individual members and as a radically transformational community must be at the heart of this. We have access to different solutions. We see and act differently. The newer and emerging churches and the established churches are already beginning to come together and imagining a new way of being. We must continue to inhabit a different story that changes this place I love.
The expectations on the Haass process were probably unrealistic, but they also reflected a desire from many for something to happen. There is an appetite for change that no political party can satisfy. There is a longing for peace that no process can meet. We’ve had a Good Friday Agreement but, as Tony Campolo would say, Sunday is surely coming.
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.