Northern party leaders meet to discuss if any way forward on Haass document

Divisions over the proposals on parades, flags and the past highlighted in Assembly debate and votes

Alliance leader David Ford  said “significant progress” was made in the Haass negotiations, but warned that the leaders must continue to move forward politically to disprove the cynics. Photograph:  Mark Pearce/Pacemaker

Alliance leader David Ford said “significant progress” was made in the Haass negotiations, but warned that the leaders must continue to move forward politically to disprove the cynics. Photograph: Mark Pearce/Pacemaker

Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 00:59

A meeting of the Northern Ireland party leaders to discuss the Haass proposals must show “genuine ambition and not just the illusion of activity”, Alliance leader David Ford has urged.

He made his comments in the Northern Assembly chamber yesterday evening following a frequently negative and occasionally angry debate on the Haass paper. Contributions focused more on the disagreements between unionists and nationalists than on proffering the possibility for making advances on parades, flags and the past.

Mr Ford said “significant progress” was made in the Haass negotiations, but warned that the leaders must continue to move forward politically to disprove the cynics.

“We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to move significantly forward from where we are,” he added.

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are scheduled to meet this afternoon with the SDLP, Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance leaders to examine if progress can be made on the proposals that US diplomat Dr Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan outlined on New Year’s Eve.

In the Assembly chamber yesterday the divisions were further defined by the fact that a proposal from Sinn Féin supporting the Haass proposals on the past, parades and flags was met by three amendments from the DUP, the UUP and Alliance. All four votes were lost.

The first UUP amendment effectively rejecting the Haass paper was defeated by 89 votes to 12. The next DUP amendment agreeing with part of the Sinn Féin motion that the Haass proposals had “the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the peace building process”, while looking forward to today’s meeting, was defeated by 63 votes to 38.

The Alliance amendment, which also accepted elements of the Sinn Féin proposal, was rejected without the necessity of a vote. Finally, the Sinn Féin proposal was rejected by 52 votes to 49.

Earlier, during question time, Mr Robinson indicated how he believes advances could be made following the end of the Haass negotiations. When asked about the possibility of Dr Haass returning, he joked that there were “rules against inhumane treatment”.

He said, however, that each of the five parties to the talks – the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and Alliance – should itemise where progress was made while adding that he would be content to see Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers chairing any future discussions on the Haass proposals.

During the debate Mr Robinson said the meeting he and Mr McGuinness are holding with SDLP leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance leader Mr Ford was important. He said that each leader should be honest and say which elements of the proposals they agreed with and where they wanted change.

He said he had difficulties over the proposals relating to all three issues while adding, “I have always held the position that no deal is better than a bad deal.”

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