Haass prepares intensive push for agreement on the past by Stormont parties

Taoiseach, Tánaiste offer full backing following Dublin meeting with former US envoy

US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, speaking to the media at the Stormont hotel in Belfast on his return to Northern Ireland last week.  Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire

US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, speaking to the media at the Stormont hotel in Belfast on his return to Northern Ireland last week. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA Wire


Richard Haass

begin a series of meetings today which they hope will lead to agreement with the main Northern parties by the weekend.

They are in London to meet the British government for talks on proposals for dealing with flags, parades and legacy issues from the Troubles that have dogged the Stormont Executive. Dr Haass and Prof O’Sullivan had a series of bilateral meetings with the parties last week.

Intensive phase
His paper, to be presented to them today, will reflect his thinking but not necessarily his final position. Other ideas can yet be discussed particularly as the meetings move into a final, intensive phase on Wednesday and Thursday. Dr Haass updated the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in Dublin last Thursday for over an hour.

Mr Kenny said: “We are very happy to work with Dr Haass and his team to see if we can make progress where that might be possible. But at the end of the day it’s about conclusions and agreements being reached by parties in Northern Ireland. ”

Asked about Sinn Féin calls for a fresh approach to the legacy of the Troubles, Mr Kenny said Gerry Adams “should use the forum of the Dáil” to address outstanding issues. “If he wants to initiate a discussion about the past, we need some truth about what the situation is,” he said.

The parties will be asked to discuss proposals to deal with contested parades, which involve new structures including an appeals mechanism.

Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers, who will be among those meeting Dr Haass and Prof O’Sullivan in London today, announced last week a new line-up of members for the Parades Commission which has ruled on disputed marches and demonstrations to date. If new proposals are agreed, theirs could be a short tenure.

Flying flags
There was no indication last night that a breakthrough on the flying of flags is possible at this stage.

Dr Haass stated repeatedly since last September when he returned to Northern Ireland to deal with the outstanding issues that dealing with the past was by far the most complex problem facing the parties.

Sinn Féin, the DUP, Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance delegations to the talks may consider plans for what has been called “limited immunity”, an idea given qualified support by First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson who said he was “not averse” to considering proposals.

Limited immunity could link immunity to information rather than the informant – a similar procedure is employed by the commission tasked with discovering bodies of the so-called Disappeared. It was also a policy associated with the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons which were “put beyond use” without being examined forensically.

According to DUP talks negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP still wants to see prosecutions where possible for killings carried out during the Troubles. “Our focus on dealing with the past is ensuring robust criminal prosecutions are in place to pursue justice,” he said. “We have no firm position until we see what proposals will be put on the table.

The reaction of victims and survivors groups will prove critical, with the parties keenly taking on board wider opinion before deciding their own final position.