Haass hopes negotiations can yield early Christmas present
Talks on parades and flags to start in second week of December
Dr Richard Haass: “Everyone involved in this process and everyone in Northern Ireland would have even more reason than usual to celebrate the holidays this year.” Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye
A Christmas deal on parades, flags and the past is “doable and desirable”, according to the US diplomat Dr Richard Haass.
Dr Haass, who arrived back in Belfast yesterday with US foreign affairs expert Dr Meghan O’Sullivan for an intensive period of all-party talks aimed at resolving the three issues of the legacy of the Troubles, flags and parades, said a deal was achievable before Christmas.
“It is our goal, if at all possible, to get this wound up before Christmas,” he said at a press conference. “I think that would be ideal because everyone involved in this process and everyone in Northern Ireland would have even more reason than usual to celebrate the holidays this year.”
Dr Haass hoped that talks could conclude after a two-week period of negotiations that are to start in the second week in December.
He said that “if two or three days more would prove critical” he might allow an extra period between Christmas and New Year’s Day to finalise the talks.
While the Government, the British government, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are not directly engaged in the talks, Dr Haass said “all hands on deck” would be required “if the entire political endeavour is to succeed”.
He said he had already received more than 500 submissions from various groups on how to tackle the key issues. He said the talks were now moving into a “gear-shift” intensive period of negotiations.
Dr Haass yesterday held one-to-one talks with the five parties engaged in the process: the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance. He also met the Traditional Unionist Voice party. He plans to travel to Derry and Portadown later this week for a series of meetings and conclude with all-party talks on Friday. He will also brief Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin published the submissions it has made to the Haass process.It called for a policy of “equality or neutrality when it comes to flag-flying on public buildings”, including a protocol that in certain loyalist and republican areas, rather than scores of flags flying, a single representative flag should fly in each area.