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Northern Ireland: The Future—and the Past—Is Now

Authors: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations, and Meghan L. O'Sullivan, Adjunct Senior Fellow
December 27, 2013
Belfast Telegraph


We have devoted much of the last six months to helping the five parties that make up the Executive in Northern Ireland reach agreement on parades, flags, and contending with the past. The deadline, the end of the year, is upon us.

There is as yet no agreement and no certainty one will emerge. The divisions over the draft text are many and deep. This is not surprising, as political leaders can always find fault with a proposed text, both for what it says and what it does not. There will be words whose inclusion causes real concern for some parties — and words whose exclusion does the same.

But the reality is that no party in a diverse democracy can have all it wants. Compromise is essential. What matters is whether Northern Ireland would be better off with this agreement. We believe the answer to that question is yes — a resounding yes.

We are not in a position to go into the specifics of what is being negotiated. Confidentiality is as essential as it is difficult to maintain. However, some elements of the draft agreement — or misrepresentations of them — have come into the public domain.

Given the critical role the public has played in this process, we want to provide an overview of what is on the table, which if accepted would go a long way toward helping both individuals and the society as a whole contend with the legacy of the past and meet the challenges of the present and future.

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