Accord needs ‘broad buy-in’, says Haass
US diplomat meets Northern Ireland leaders to seek solution to issues behind parade violence
Richard Haass (centre) with Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson (right) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness during a press conference at Stormont Castle in Belfast yesterday. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
An agreement that has the “broad buy-in” of the politicians and people of Northern Ireland is essential to tackle parades and other sensitive issues, Dr Richard Haass said in Belfast yesterday.
After five nights of parade-related violence, Dr Haass flew into Northern Ireland yesterday to chair the first meeting of the Stormont all-party group tasked with finding a solution to marches, protests, flags and emblems, and the past.
As he met First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the Orange Order lodged another application to the Parades Commission to parade past the Ardoyne shops this Saturday afternoon.
Flashpoint parts of Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland remained on high alert last night. There was also heavy security relating to last night’s Glasgow Celtic v Cliftonville game at the Solitude ground in north Belfast. Cliftonville officials advised visiting Celtic supporters not to wear their team colours in Belfast city centre.
The North sustained five nights of disorder since the violence that erupted on Friday, Twelfth of July, when Orangemen were banned from parading home past the shops at nationalist Ardoyne in north Belfast. The trouble on Tuesday night was diminished compared to other nights.
Dr Haass and the all-party group of DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ulster Unionist and Alliance members have until the end of this year to produce a report on how the most intractable issues of the peace process might be addressed.
Politicians and community
Dr Haass said he did not have a “Pollyanna” view of the situation but was not daunted by the challenge. Any agreement on parades, flags and the past must have “broad buy-in” from politicians and the community, he added.
“This has got to be done politically and within the parameters of legitimate political discourse,” he said at Stormont Castle yesterday, where he met Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness and the all-party group he will chair from early autumn. “Disagreements are fine, disagreements are to be expected, but again disagreements are to be dealt with verbally and done within a legitimate and accepted political process.”
Dr Haass said it was 12 years since he was appointed as former US president George Bush’s envoy to Northern Ireland. “It is impossible to return and not be struck by how much has changed, and mostly for the better,” he said.
Mr Robinson said there was no doubt Dr Haass had a difficult task ahead but he had their “goodwill and sincere commitment”.
Mr McGuinness said they wanted to reach a solution on parades and the other issues that “everybody can live with”.
Orange Order pledge
The Orange Order issued a statement saying it would “willingly and actively participate in the Haass initiative with a view to replacing the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 with a better regulatory system”.
At lunchtime yesterday, it caused surprise when it applied for a parade of 500 Orangemen marching behind one band to march from the Shankill up the Woodvale Road and past the Ardoyne shops on Saturday afternoon to Ligoniel Orange hall.
On Friday, their parade was blocked on the Woodvale Road, sparking rioting and violence. The Parades Commission is due to adjudicate on the application today.
Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Gerry Kelly said the order was demonstrating a lack of leadership. “All this application does is inflame the situation.” SDLP MLA for North Belfast Alban Maginness said the move was “unhelpful and irresponsible”.