McGuinness wants deal on parades, flags and the past to be in place before Christmas

Person with ‘qualities of George Mitchell’ to chair body tackling most difficult issues


Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said they want a blueprint to deal with parades, flags and the past by Christmas and they want somebody of the status of former US senator George Mitchell to help draw up such a plan.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister, in yesterday publishing their 117-page document, Together: Building a United Community , said they viewed their proposals as a first step in an evolving strategy to create a shared society.

The document puts more flesh on the Shared Future proposals that Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness outlined at Stormont two weeks ago

These include bringing down the North’s 60 “peace walls” by 2023, creating 10,000 one-year cross-community placements for young people from loyalist and republican disaffected areas, developing multischool campuses and buddy schemes to bring young Protestants and Catholics together, and building more shared housing.

Vexing issues
Two weeks ago Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said the particularly vexing issues of parades, flags and the past would be dealt with separately through an all-party group with an independent chairperson.

They made it clear yesterday that they wanted the group quickly to come up with strategies and plans to address these matters.

Mr McGuinness said the group should have proposals on the table before Christmas and that it should have its first meeting within four weeks. He wanted the chair to be agreed by the five main parties in the Assembly.

He added that the independent chair would be a significant figure who would “have some of the same qualities of George Mitchell” who chaired the Belfast Agreement talks. He stressed Mr Mitchell would not be requested to lead the body.

“This has to be a very serious endeavour to try to get to grips with at least three very, very difficult areas [parades, flags and the past], some of them more difficult than others,” said Mr McGuinness.