First Minister fumes at Haass proposals

Published Monday, 16 December 2013
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First Minister Peter Robinson has expressed his outrage at the draft plans outlined by Richard Haass on how to deal with flags, parades and the past and said if they were the final proposals there would be “steam coming out of his ears”.

The DUP leader was speaking after seeing the draft recommendations from Dr Haass's talks process on Monday.

The American diplomat has been tackling the three controversial issues of flags, parades and the past since he began chairing all party-talks in the region in September.

He has met with political parties, various community and business organisations and taken submissions from the public.

On Monday he presented his draft suggestions on how best to broker a consensus on the three controversial topics.

Mr Robinson said he would be outraged if the draft proposals outlined by Dr Haass went ahead.

He said he could not agree to the plans and claimed the all-party talks were moving backwards on flags.

He said: "If I thought this was the final paper, there would be steam coming out of my ears.

"But it is not the final paper and we still have work to do and we are up to doing that work."

The First Minister, while keeping details of the discussion papers secret, claimed Dr Haass had not "tempered" some of his material but said progress could still be made.

He went on: "There are some things that are totally unacceptable and we would be outraged if we really believed that Dr Haass was serious in believing that that was going to be an outcome.

"I suspect that Dr Haass, like everybody else, is hearing views from a wide range of people and putting some of their comments within the papers to allow people to react, well, he is going to get a reaction."

He said some of the recommendations were still unacceptable to the DUP and very considerable work had still to be done to mend the "inadequacies".

Mr Robinson said he would recommend none of the papers at present to the full party membership but added progress could still be made in at least two of the three areas.

He said: "We are just saying that there is not a set of proposals that we can support, agree to or recommend."

Nobody is throwing the towel in at this stage.

Peter Robinson, DUP

Other parties' representatives also gave a decidly mixed reaction to the proposals outlined by Dr Haass.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said the chair had put forward "robust ideas that would need interrogation".

He added: "It's very early days, there will be three or four days of intense debate and discussion and deciding exactly what some of the words mean.

"There are some robust ideas that we are very hopeful about and we have to get to a stage that all parties agree on.

"The devil is in the details, but we are hopeful."

Dr McDonnell said he and his party representatives would be available around the clock in order to reach an agreement by the deadline at the end of the week.

He added: "We are desperately keen to sort out flags, parades and to give some consolation to victims and survivors of the past who have been neglected over the years.

"We won't be found wanting for going the extra mile."

We want to get this over the line and see Northern Ireland moving on and settle some of these running sores that have been with us for some time.

Alasdair McDonnell, SDLP

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt paraphrased Margaret Thatcher's out, out, out speech, saying he would need changes before his party would be "in, in, in".

However, he refused to go into specifies on what areas his party agreed on and what they did not.

He said: "The three issues we will interpret in different ways in terms of their acceptability.

"It's no secret flags has emerged as the thorny issue and that remains the case in terms of this first draft.

"But it is now time for the parties to start putting their proposals on the table and get to the bottom line on each of the issues and get them resolved so that we can move on.

"We will work positively over the next few days to try and deliver a fair resolution to all the people of Northern Ireland so we can deliver on the promises of the Belfast Agreement 15 years on."

Mr Nesbitt said plans for a peace centre at the Maze were not included in the proposals set out by Dr Haass.

He continued: "I see no reason to start discussing the peace centre in these negotiations.

"Let's stick to what is possible and what is fair and to what is right and clearly that peace centre is not right.

"There are a lot of issues, but this is the start of this final phase of the process.

"There are a lot of ideas being floated that you have to accept today, but may not be there tomorrow."

Mr Nesbitt said the document was what he expected and was "optimistic" this week's deadline could be met.

All things are possible if people come at it honestly with a spirit of generosity to each other but are also determined that the outcomes are fair.

Mike Nesbitt, UUP

The Alliance Party's Naomi Long said the people of Northern Ireland, and their future, had to be the focus of the final stages of the process.

She said: "What we have seen is a very detailed paper which builds on work from last week, so there are few surprises.

"The question now really is how much work needs to be done by the end of this week if we are going to get an agreement.

"I would be very surprised, having read the document, that any party was happy at this stage that's why there is a week of work to be done.

"It is hugely important people come to this with an open mind and that they are willing to read the document and also willing to suggest substantive changes that move in the direction they want to travel.

"The important thing at the end of this week is that we have an agreement which will move Northern Ireland forward and is ambitious in doing so.

"This is not about cutting the difference between different parties' perspectives.

"This is about bearing in mind the people who are not in the room and trying to deliver a step change for the people in Northern Ireland.

"We are willing to be open-minded and I hope other parties are as well."

I'm not interested in grandstanding, I'm interested in rolling up my sleeves and ultimately I want to see a five-party agreement.

Naomi Long, Alliance

Dr Haass travelled to London to meet with Downing Street officials and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to discuss his progress and provide an update on the process.

On Tuesday he will again meet with the parties to discuss his draft document and any changes that could be made.

And on Thursday there will be a series, of what has been termed, "hot house talks" with the five main political parties and Dr Haass in an attempt to broker an agreement.

UTV's Political Editor Ken Reid says the sticking point with the negotiations is the flags issue.

He said: "There has been progress on the past and a degree of manoeuvrability on parades and the parties have a certain confidence they can get somewhere there.

"The big problem is flags.

"Richard Haass met with the DUP over that issue and I'm told that meeting was very heated and there were a lot of direct exchanges.

"In a talks process that may not be a surprise, but among the parties, I do not detect any great optimism about a breakthrough on flags."

It is hoped the process can be concluded by the end of the week.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
94 Comments
John in Creggan wrote (121 days ago):
@Roy in Glengormley Flown 356 days a year as in no other part of the UK. As a nationalist I'm keeping my part of the Belfast agreement in accepting that the North for now is part of the UK. It's time for unionists to also accept that Northern Ireland is no different from other parts of the UK.
Tom in Down wrote (121 days ago):
One of the illogical features of some comments here is the tendency to discuss NI as though it were like Britain and could be compared like for like. We all know it isn't. The creation of NI; it's Stormont government; the Troubles; the peace process; the GFA and its distinctive features of government; and, now the Haass talks, are ample proof that NI is very, very different from Britain. The idea that the Union Jack should fly here, just as it flies in the rest of Britain is equally illogical and resorts to an "all the same" argument when it suits, but rejects it when it doesn't. It is trying to treat apples and oranges alike, when on abortion laws, on gay rights (so-called "gay blood" donation), NI - at the behest of the DUP - demands different treatment from Britain! Most Unionists (since they vote for the DUP) have already endorsed a vision of NI's role in the UK which is different. But - and this is the crucial point - it falls both ways. Recognition that NI is indeed very different from Britain means that which flag to fly (amongst many other things, like abortion and gay rights - when suits the DUP and their many voters) is open to a very different interpretation too.
Peter in Belfast wrote (121 days ago):
Roy: Please please do your homework. It does not fly every day outside London City Hall. Why should it fly every day outside Belfast City Hall?
Mick in Lala land wrote (121 days ago):
Why should two flags fly to represent both parts of community's you can't change a country just cause a percentage doesn't like it might aswel put Chinese flag and polish flag up aswel it's a dumb proposal let the bigots on both sides yap on it won't work simple
shamrock in Belfast wrote (122 days ago):
@ Roy. Do you need a geography lesson?? The UK is made up of Britain and NI. NI is legally nor internationally recognised as being part of Britain. If want to make a point get your facts right!!! Idiot.
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