Deal on NI parades, flags and the past ‘do-able’, says Haass

Process now ‘shifting gear’ into intensive period of talks, according to US diplomat

Dr Richard Haass: is in Belfast  for all-party talks aimed at resolving the three contentious issues of the legacy of the Troubles. File Photograph:  PA Wire

Dr Richard Haass: is in Belfast for all-party talks aimed at resolving the three contentious issues of the legacy of the Troubles. File Photograph: PA Wire

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 13:43

A deal on parades, flags and the past is achievable before Christmas, US diplomat Dr Richard Haass said in Belfast today.

Dr Haass, who is back in Belfast with Dr Meghan O’Sullivan for all-party talks aimed at resolving the three contentious issues of the legacy of the Troubles, flags and parades, said that a deal was “do-able and desirable”.

“It is our goal, if at all possible, to get this wound up before Christmas,” he said this afternoon at a press conference in the Europa Hotel.

Dr Haass hoped that talks could conclude after a two-week period of intense negotiations that are to start in the second week in December.

He said that “if two or three days more would prove critical”, he might allow that extra period between Christmas and New Year ’s Day to finalise the talks. He appeared adamant that the end of December was the absolute deadline.

While the British and Irish Governments and First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are not directly engaged in the talks, Dr Haass said that “all hands on deck” would be required “if the entire political endeavour is to succeed”.

Dr Haass said he had already received more than 500 submissions from various groups on how to tackle the key issues. He said the talks were now “shifting gear” into a more comprehensive and detailed process.

Today, and for much of the rest of the week, Dr Haass will hold one-to-one talks with the five parties engaged in the process – the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance. He also plans to travel to Derry and Portadown later this week for a series of meetings and conclude with all-party talks on Friday.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin today published the submissions it has made to the Haass process to date.

On flags and emblems the party called for a policy of “equality or neutrality when it comes to flag flying on public buildings” including a protocol that in certain loyalist and republican areas that rather than scores of union flags and tricolours flying from various lamp-posts that a single representative flag should fly in each area. It also called for legislation to prevent unregulated flag flying.

Rather than seeking the disbandment of the Parades Commission, as unionists and loyalists have been urging, Sinn Féin said it should be “the body to decide on parades where agreement has not been achieved”.

It said there was an “absolute need for dialogue between parading groups and local residents” and that there must be “effective sanctions for those in breach of Parade Commission determinations”.

On the past, Sinn Féin again called for the creation of an “effective independent, international truth recovery mechanism”.

It also said there must be “acknowledgment of the hurt, grief and divisions we have caused each other”, improved services for victims and survivors and “sensitivity on remembrance”.