Haass works on new plan as NI parties reject latest deal

US diplomat says it is best to leave flags to a Patten-style commission which would report in 2015

US diplomat Richard Haass and  Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, speaking to the media at Stormont Hotel in Belfast on Friday. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

US diplomat Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, speaking to the media at Stormont Hotel in Belfast on Friday. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Mon, Dec 23, 2013, 17:24

Dr Richard Haass is today attempting to devise a fourth and possibly final paper that would result in a Christmas deal on the three difficult issues of parades, the past and flags.

A roundtable meeting of all the parties chaired by the US diplomat and his US colleague, Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan scheduled for 11 am this morning was postponed after his third paper was effectively rejected.

Dr Haass and Dr O’Sullivan and his team are now working on a separate paper which they hope the parties can agree upon. They are hoping that a plenary meeting can be held this afternoon or evening to decide on the paper.

Dr Haass engaged in a wide range of contacts with the five parties - the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance - throughout the weekend but was unable to strike a deal on his third set of proposals.

He hasn’t given up on a deal and is now working on his fourth document. He tweeted early this morning, “Long day, but not yet where we need to be. Much to be settled before Christmas; won’t be easy, but surely worth it for Northern Ireland. ”

Dr Haass and Dr O’Sullivan have accepted that they are not going to get agreement on flags in these talks and have decided to “park” the issue, sources said. They are proposing the creation of a Patten-style commission on identity, culture and tradition which would have until sometime in 2015 to report on a way forward on flags.

Progress was made on the past although the parties say there are still a number of unresolved matters in this area too. There appears to be broad agreement on the creation of an all-embracing investigative body which would continue to inquire into Troubles-related killings. This would take over the work of the Historical Enquiries Team and also historical investigative work currently conducted by the PSNI and the Police Ombudsman.

A separate “commission for information retrieval” is also proposed. This would allow for “limited immunity” to those who were willing to provide information to victims and survivors about killings in which they were involved. Victims would have the choice of whether or not they participated in this process.

Unionists insisted this was not an amnesty as the new investigative body separately, but without using the information provided to the commission for information retrieval, could continue its investigations into all Troubles killings.

Dr Haass also proposes a new body to replace the Parades Commission which would have an appeals mechanism when decisions were disputed.

Dr O’Sullivan said on Friday that if a deal was not achieved before Christmas, she and Dr Haass would make a judgement call about heading home and then returning on December 27th to try and conclude a deal by the absolute deadline of December 31st.

On Friday, Dr Haass said: “I don’t think we are asking people to agree to unreasonable things. I would predict that the agreement, assuming it looks more or less like it does today, with some additions or deletions, would receive overwhelming support.”

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