Draft peace plan for Northern Ireland published online
Blueprint was drawn up by former US diplomat Richard Haass
Dr Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan leave the Stormont hotel in Belfast, where all party talks failed to secure a deal. Photogaph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Northern Ireland’s political leaders have published a draft agreement on outstanding peace process issues only hours after parties failed to reach consensus on the proposals.
The stalled blueprint for dealing with divisive problems around flags, parades and the legacy of the Troubles was drawn up by former US diplomat Richard Haass, who chaired a six-month five-party talks process that ended at 5am this morning without a settlement.
Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who had commissioned the one-time White House special envoy to oversee the negotiations, put the document on the website of their joint office so people could assess the plans for themselves.
While Dr Haass did not meet his end-of-year deadline to achieve consensus on the long running disputes, his draft agreement could yet form the basis for a deal. The two nationalist parties — Sinn Féin and SDLP — have signalled a willingness to back his proposals.
The DUP and Ulster Unionists have acknowledged progress has been made and have pledged to take the document back for consultation with their respective party executives, but both have expressed major concerns about details of the paper as it stands.
The Alliance Party said it would endorse the document’s proposals on the past, but rejected the suggested resolutions on flags and parades in their current form.
The parties are now set to establish a Stormont working group to try and finally reach an accommodation in 2014. But without the direction of such an experienced independent chair and with elections looming in May, some fear the window of opportunity may have passed.
Before flying home to the United States, Dr Haass had urged Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to publish the document. “We believe that when this happens it will receive and enjoy considerable public support and it will help contribute to an already robust debate that is taking place in Northern Ireland about its past, its present and its future,” he said early this morning.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron have described the failure of the parties to reach agreement as “disappointing”.
Dr Haass had urged Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to publish the document. He believed it would command “considerable public support” and ultimately be a “foundation stone” for an agreement.
He also called on the parties to establish a working group to address outstanding problems which are mainly over parading and the past. He also made clear that while he and his colleague Professor Meghan O’Sullivan at some future stage might return to assist the parties sign off on a deal, they were now detaching themselves from the process.
“Success should not be measured by what we report to you tonight or what the party leaders report tonight - I would ask you to judge the success in six months, in a year, 18 months, in two years, that would give a much more realistic definition or yardstick of what constitutes success,” he said. “What I believe what we have done is laid down solid enough foundations stones.”