‘More work needed’ to secure deal in North, Robinson says

First Minister still confident of compromise, despite disagreements over Haass proposals

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said ‘valuable progress’ had been made in the dispute over flags and parades, despite a failure to agree to proposals tabled by US diplomat Dr Richard Haass  . Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said ‘valuable progress’ had been made in the dispute over flags and parades, despite a failure to agree to proposals tabled by US diplomat Dr Richard Haass . Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Tue, Jan 7, 2014, 17:59

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has said much more work is needed to produce a deal on contentious parades, flags and dealing with a troubled past.

Peter Robinson said he had not thrown in the towel after talks chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass broke up on New Year’s Eve without an all-party accord.

The Ulster Unionists have already said some of his proposals were unacceptable but Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has claimed they should be implemented as they stand.

Mr Robinson said: “While the final Haass document contains many propositions that the DUP can support and endorse, there remain others that would neither be an improvement nor workable and would not help in resolving the problems they were crafted to solve.

“We are satisfied that the broad architecture is capable of housing long-term workable arrangements, yet the detailed components as drafted which would determine how those structures would operate need much more work before they could function in the best interests of the community.”

He said the party would continue to try to resolve outstanding issues.

“Unquestionably the work Dr Haass and his team have undertaken has narrowed the gap in a number of areas and our understanding of each party’s position will aid future negotiations,” he added.

Dr Haass was enlisted by Northern Ireland’s ministerial Executive in July to broker a settlement on contentious issues which have sparked sectarian divisions and despite significant progress on dealing with the past the talks ended without any deal.

The negotiations followed months of sporadic loyalist violence over contentious parades, restrictions on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall and an increase in the number of bomb attacks by dissident republicans opposed to the peace process.

Sinn Fein said they were prepared to sign up to the Haass proposals, but Mr Robinson’s Democratic Unionists said they were not in a position to go ahead but he denied the process was a failure.

The East Belfast Stormont MLA has won unanimous backing from party officers to support an ongoing process and set up an all-party working group to resolve outstanding areas of disagreement and implement agreements when identified.

He thanked Dr Haass, a former Bush Administration envoy to Northern Ireland, and vice-chairwoman Dr Meghan O’Sullivan, who helped rebuild Iraq after the US invasion, for the time and effort they had devoted.

“We don’t regard that as wasted time, in fact we have made valuable progress,” he said.

He added: “There is a requirement for the panel itself to set out where there are disagreements and to see can we narrow it and close it. We are up for that job, we want to continue to make progress, we are not satisfied with the status quo.

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