‘Strong sense of possibility’ surrounds first Haass talks
Search for solution to problem of parades, flags and the past will continue until year end
US diplomat Richard Haass (centre) assisted by Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan (right) during round table Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire
The first plenary session of talks involving the main Stormont parties to resolve problems linked to parades, flags and legacy issues have been described as positive and encouraging by the talks chairman.
Dr Richard Haass, a former special US envoy to the peace process 10 years ago, has insisted the talks process has within it “a strong sense of possibility”.
He said he would not have accepted an invitation from the North’s political leaders to chair the process unless he had a strong sense that progress could be achieved.
He insisted the current round of talks would finish by the end of December, adding there was no need to extend the deadline. What was possible to achieve was possible by the end of the year and would not need any longer.
Prof Meghan O’Sullivan says that of the three central problems: parades, flags and the past - the past is by far the most complex. She said the boundaries of the difficulties were much more “nebulous” and difficult to define.
Dr Haass agreed saying it was “hard to overestimate how complex some issues are”. He added that many of the problems were “deeply human”.
He insisted that the talks process was not one of “knocking heads together” and repeated that both “the substance and tone of the talks” had been very encouraging.
Today’s plenary session followed an intensive round of meetings in Northern Ireland since the arrival of Dr Haass and Prof O’Sullivan.
More than 30 meetings had been held involving more than 100 individuals, they said.
He will return to Ireland next month and again in November for further meetings. More talks are scheduled including meetings in both Dublin and London as well as a series of outreach sessions around Northern Ireland and outside Belfast.
Quoting his former boss in the US State Department, Colin Powell, Dr Haass said that “capital is a coward” and that the violent scenes broadcast around the world from Belfast during the summer months would have a damaging effect on those trying to attract foreign direct investment and create jobs.
However he added that, given the broad diplomatic experience built up by both himself and Prof O’Sullivan, much could be done in Northern Ireland.
“This is not our first rodeo,” he said.
He returns to Belfast in around four week’s time but will remain in touch with the parties to the process in the meantime. Prof O’Sullivan will also maintain contact directly with the parties.