Haass hoping for late talks breakthrough

Seventh draft of proposals put to North parties after they fail to reach consensus

 Dr Richard Haass and Harvard Professor Meghan O’Sullivan   arrive at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast. Photograph: 	Pacemaker

Dr Richard Haass and Harvard Professor Meghan O’Sullivan arrive at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast. Photograph: Pacemaker


US diplomat Richard Haass presented the five parties involved in talks with a seventh proposals paper late last night that he hoped would lead to a New Year’s Eve agreement on parades, flags and the past.

Negotiation were continuing into the early hours today as the parties tried to finalise a deal. At 11.30pm Dr Haass, chair of the all-party talks, presented a new set of proposals to the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance. The parties assessed and negotiated the proposals into this morning.

Dr Haass was planning to hold a round-table meeting of all the parties at 1.30am today to hear their decision before wrapping up the talks.

Dr Haass and talks vice-chair Meghan O’Sullivan returned from the US on Saturday and delivered their sixth set of proposals to the parties early yesterday morning. “The only day of a negotiation that counts is the last day,” Dr Haass tweeted yesterday morning. “Today is the last day here in Belfast. Hope NI leaders seize it.”

Disputed proposal
But after teatime last night it was clear to Dr Haass that the sixth paper would not resolve outstanding difficulties, particularly over the past. A key area of disagreement was a disputed proposal over whether to detail specific “themes” that would be addressed in relation to the past. Sources said Dr Haass’s fifth paper specified areas such as collusion allegedly involving the British army, RUC and Garda, the disappeared and the IRA targeting of Protestants along the Border.

Due to nationalist objections these were dropped in the sixth paper. Sources said unionists complained that if specific themes were not set down, republicans would exploit this area to try to “rewrite history”.

One source said unionists wanted to ensure “if British army and RUC collusion were investigated then so must Garda collusion and the role of the Irish government in helping establish the Provos”.

At that stage Dr Haass decided to write a seventh paper.

Shortly after 7pm DUP and Sinn Féin negotiators led by MP Jeffrey Donaldson and Assembly member Gerry Kelly separately left the talks to brief, respectively, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

When asked if he thought a deal would be done, Mr Kelly said he was always “optimistic”.

Mr Donaldson said: “I think there is still some way to travel.” He added: “We are putting in forms of words that may further close and bridge the gap on some of the outstanding issues but it remains to be seen whether we have the basis for a final agreement.”