US diplomat Richard Haass wants parties in Northern Ireland to show spirit of compromise
Measurable progress on such issues as the past, parades and flags is ‘ambitious but possible’
US diplomat Richard Haass: ‘I think this last summer was something of an indication or something of a warning that one should not take the improvements for granted.’ he said. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
US diplomat Richard Haass has said that he is “looking for give and take” from the interested parties as he seeks to oversee agreement on how to deal with parading, flags and emblems, and the past.
Dr Haass said there was a limit to what any outsider could achieve but the goal of making progress by the deadline of Christmas was “ambitious but possible”.
The aim in the coming months was to devise a “consensus document” and “make measurable progress in all three areas”, Dr Haass told reporters before separately meeting delegations from Sinn Féin and the SDLP in the Europa Hotel yesterday evening.
Dr Haass, with US foreign affairs expert Dr Meghan O’Sullivan and other members of his team, will also meet the DUP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance this week. In the coming months he also plans to meet the British and Irish governments and representatives of interested bodies such as community groups and the loyal orders.
Dr Haass, who was former US president George W Bush’s special envoy to the peace process, said Northern Ireland was an “incomparably better place” than when he was there a decade ago but in relation to parades, flags and the past there were remaining problems that went “broad and deep”.
“I think this last summer was something of an indication or something of a warning that one should not take the improvements for granted,” he said.
“One has to embed it and one has also to broaden it and there’s obviously unresolved issues and unresolved tensions or again you wouldn’t have had the violence you had this summer and you wouldn’t have had these lingering and persistent political differences and I think the five parties recognise that,” he added.
Dr Haass said he and Dr O’Sullivan – a professor of international affairs at Harvard, who served with him when he was president Bush’s envoy – had done a considerable amount of “homework” ahead of these talks, including familiarising themselves with the Eames-Bradley proposals on how to deal with the past.
Dr Haass made clear that for these talks to be successful required strong local leadership.
He said, “One of the things I’ve learned over the years working in various negotiations is that often the single most important factor is not necessarily the detail of this or that formula but rather the willingness and ability of the leadership and respective sides in an issue to be willing to make compromises, and be in a position, to be sufficiently strong, to make the case for those compromises with their own respective constituencies.”
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, after leading a party delegation for more than an hour of talks with Dr Haass, said he was approaching the three issues in “problem-solving mode”.
“These are very, very serious issues that badly need resolution and we are very determined to play a positive and constructive role during the course of these discussions to find a resolution to these problems, because quite honestly that’s what people want,” he said.
“If there’s a will and if there is a determination and if there is a generosity, yes, these issues are resolvable,” he added. “I think we are all agreed that dealing with the issue of the past might be the most difficult of all, but I think if people come at this with a good heart, huge progress can be made.”