Haass talks stall but efforts to continue into next week

Former US diplomat says he will leave ‘no stone unturned’ in attempt to reach deal on issues surrounding parades, the past and flags

Mr  Richard Haass (right) assisted by Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, speaking to the media at Stormont Hotel in Belfast, where he is chairing negotiations dealing with contentious flags, parades and the North’s troubled past. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Mr Richard Haass (right) assisted by Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, speaking to the media at Stormont Hotel in Belfast, where he is chairing negotiations dealing with contentious flags, parades and the North’s troubled past. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 19:22

Draft proposals on flags, parades and the past are reasonable and are likely to have the overwhelming support of the public, US diplomat Richard Haass has intimated after his talks became stalled on a number of matters but mainly over flags.

Work is to continue through this weekend in an effort to strike a comprehensive deal with more roundtable talks planned for Monday.

If there is no agreement by Monday the current plan is for Dr Haass and the vice-chair of the talks, Dr Meghan O’Sullivan to head home and possibly return from the US for more negotiations beginning in Belfast on Friday, December 27th, said Dr O’Sullivan.

“I don’t think we are asking people to agree to unreasonable things,” said Dr Haass about his proposals.

He also believed that the paper, possibly with some amendments, would have huge public endorsement. “I would predict that the agreement, assuming it looks more or less like it does today, with some additions or deletions, would receive overwhelming support,” he said.

Dr Haass said the parties must also consider what failure to agree would mean. “The time has come for parties and individuals to reflect hard, not on what it is that they want but what it is they can live with,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt suggested today that the flags issue should be “parked” and that Dr Haass, Dr O’Sullivan and the five parties – the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the UUP and Alliance – should conclude a deal on the past and parades.

Dr Haass in his press conference in the Stormont Hotel this evening said he was still aiming for a deal on the three issues while acknowledging that there was “more scope for progress on parades and the past”.

“Nobody said progress on all three issues needs to be equal,” he said. “It is quite possible there could be some disappointment over the flags issue because there is not the consensus there to advance the consideration of that issue nearly as much as the other two,” he added.

Dr Haass in what he said will be the “crunch” phase of the talks is planning tomorrow afternoon (Sunday)to present a third draft paper for the five main Northern parties to consider with the parties coming together again for a plenary session on Monday morning. He again urged compromise and an acknowledgment that not all parties could get everything they were seeking.

“It is inconceivable that every party gets everything that it wants. As the prime of Great Britain said (this week) you have got to be prepared for give and take and if there is a willingness to give and take I believe we can get an agreement.”

Dr Haass said today’s plenary with the five parties left them resolved “to leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach agreement before Christmas”, adding, “Much progress has been made and much remains to be resolved.”

Dr Haass said he and Dr O’Sullivan had put forward compromise proposals on the three areas which if “accepted would set the stage for future progress not just on these issues but across the board to reduce sectarianism which so often characterises this society and to bring Northern Ireland closer to the goal of a truly shared space and a positive future”.

Dr O’Sullivan said she and Dr Haass would make an assessment on Monday evening if there were no agreement by then. They were seeking a “Christmas compact instead of a New Year compact” but it was still possible in the absence of agreement that they could return on December 27th which would give them a few additional days to reach a deal by the end of year deadline.

“There is no intention to go beyond the December 31st deadline,” she insisted. ends