US calls for compromise in Belfast talks

Five-party talks enter final hours tomorrow in a last-ditch attempt to reach agreement

Former US diplomat Richard Haass, assisted by Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Former US diplomat Richard Haass, assisted by Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Sun, Dec 29, 2013, 17:26

The Obama administration has urged politicians in Northern Ireland to compromise on a deal on parading, flags and dealing with the region’s troubled past.

Five-party talks enter their final hours tomorrow in a last-ditch attempt to reach agreement on issues left over from the peace process.

Former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass has been leading negotiations in an effort to prevent a resumption of recent sectarian violence.

US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said: “Initiating these talks demonstrated the commitment of the parties and people of Northern Ireland to move forward on tough issues. We are confident that a solution can be reached if there is political will on all sides.

“We call upon the leadership of the five parties to make the compromises necessary to conclude an agreement now, one that would help heal the divisions that continue to stand between the people of Northern Ireland and the future they deserve.”

There has been an upsurge in recent bombings and attempts to kill members of the security forces by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process, which culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. But measures intended to ease months of simmering resentment and violence are extraordinarily close to gaining support, Dr Haass has said, adding that the missing ingredient was not more time and urging politicians to grasp the opportunity to do a deal.

A session starting at 6am tomorrow will bring six months of increasingly intense negotiations to a head after the conflict resolution expert cut short his Christmas break to kick-start one last round of crunch discussions. Dr Haass and Harvard professor Dr Meghan O’Sullivan, who worked in post-conflict Iraq, were asked by Northern Ireland’s ministerial executive in July to lead talks after a violent summer of parade and protest.

Serious loyalist rioting broke out a year ago after restrictions were imposed on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall. This summer’s marching season sparked riots after a decision was taken to reroute a loyal order parade away from a traditional scene of yearly violence in North Belfast. The talks are intended to provide a framework for when contentious flags can be flown, for dealing with the victims of 30 years of violence which produced more than 3,000 lost lives and deciding whether perpetrators should face prison sentences or be asked to tell the truth to grieving relatives.

Politicians also hope for consensus on a new body to decide where members of the loyal orders and republicans can march.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the political negotiations in Belfast are “80 to 90 per cent over the line”. “So there’s not a lot left, but what is left is serious from our point of view,” he said.

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