Haass decides a deal before New Year’s Eve is possible

US diplomat and Meghan O’Sullivan to return for more negotiations tomorrow

Dr Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, arrive at the Stormont Hotel Belfast, to meet the five executive parties involved in the current peace talks.

Dr Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, arrive at the Stormont Hotel Belfast, to meet the five executive parties involved in the current peace talks.

Fri, Dec 27, 2013, 06:40



US diplomat Dr Richard Haass has decided to return to Northern Ireland tomorrow to try to seal a deal between the five main Northern parties on parades, flags and the past.

His decision after the failure of marathon negotiations into Christmas Eve morning indicates Dr Haass and the vice-chair of the talks, Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, believe a resolution is possible.

One of the SDLP’s negotiators, Alex Attwood, welcomed their decision to make a final attempt. “We asked that they return as we believe that a New Year’s Eve agreement can be a watershed for the past and our politics,” said the Assembly member. “The differences on the comprehensive addressing of the past is narrowing but hard work is still needed on parades.”

Mr Attwood was critical of what he contended was a lack of proper engagement in the process by the British government.

“Dublin has increasingly shown its authority in this process,” he said. “It is London which remains detached and distant. This needs to be turned round now if our past is to be faced up to.”


Lack of consensus
Dr Haass and Dr O’Sullivan flew back to the US on Christmas Eve after the parties failed to achieve consensus on the three contentious issues.

The parties negotiated for almost eight hours until 4.30am on Christmas Eve but, while progress was made, they couldn’t sign off on an agreement. Before leaving, Dr Haass said he would consider over Christmas Day whether there would be any point in returning to try to crack an agreement before the deadline of midnight next Tuesday, New Year’s Eve.

He said on Christmas Eve morning,

“In no way have we given up on the possibility of reaching agreement before the end of the year. We are not going to be able to put it underneath anyone’s Christmas tree but again we still have a week.”

At about lunchtime yesterday, Dr Haass notified the parties that he would come back to Belfast tomorrow. He is expected to hold separate meetings with the parties ahead of roundtable talks tomorrow night.

There was agreement that by Christmas Eve morning the five main parties – the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance – had got tantalisingly close to a deal but not close enough. While the parties continue to argue across the three areas, it is clear Dr Haass believes any deal will be along the lines of what is already on the table.


Final compromises
Dr Haass is expected to write a fifth draft of proposals that he hopes to send to the parties before Saturday. He will try to gauge if the parties are prepared to make the final compromises that would allow a deal to be done before the deadline.

Of the three issues, flags have proved stubbornly resistant to reasonable compromise.