Haass feels 'urgency' for talks progress

Published Thursday, 12 September 2013
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Dr Richard Haass has told UTV that the challenges of a "difficult year" have created a sense of urgency for progress to be made during talks on contentious issues in Northern Ireland.

Haass feels 'urgency' for talks progress
Dr Richard Haas spoke to UTV after meeting the NI leaders. (© UTV)

Speaking to UTV political correspondent Tracey Magee in New York, the American diplomat said the First and deputy First Ministers have been supportive of the process despite the row over the Maze Long Kesh development.

Dr Haass held discussions with the power-sharing leaders on Wednesday night, as Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are in the city on a trade mission.

The leaders have set aside their political differences to put on a united front during appointments at the New York Stock Exchange and at an American Ireland Fund benefit event in Manhattan this week, and on a meeting with mayor Michael Bloomberg.

I feel that this is a real opportunity, for the people, the citizens, the leadership of Northern Ireland, to make progress and to build on what has been accomplished.

Dr Richard Haass

"This came from the leadership of the executive, and both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are central to it and the few meetings we've had a few weeks ago in Belfast, now today, we'll meet again next week, are indicative of their personal as well as political commitment to see that progress is realised," he said.

The former US envoy said the talks that he will chair in NI will be ambitious but he was hopeful of their outcome.

The all-party talks at Stormont, aim to resolving contentious issues, such as parades, flags and emblems and dealing with the past.

"The past is an extraordinarily complex issue, a lot of people have a stake in it, there's a lot of history there by definition. And the question is, how can you can deal with it in a way that also allows you to move forward to tackle the issues that are confronting Northern Ireland today and will confront Northern Ireland in the future," he explained.

Dr Haass said that the region has had a "difficult year" but not bad one when put in the context of the past.

"Here is 2013, compared to when I last worked these set of issues, then as the US envoy, now as independent chair, there has been remarkable progress," he commented.

"The baseline, if you will, in Northern Ireland is far better than it was, you've got standing political institutions that have real political and economic authority- none of that was the case then.

"For all the violence, this year and yes there was significant violence, it was a different quality and quantity of violence from a decade, much less two or three ago."

Dr Haass added: "Expectations don't bother me, but I really believe that at the end of the day, more important than me or any outsider, be it George Mitchell (chaired Belfast Agreement talks) before me or anyone else, is the ability and willingness of political leaders to negotiate in good faith, to make compromises and then to turnaround and defend those compromises to their various constituencies."

In an effort to be inclusive, Dr Haass and his team are inviting submissions from members of the public on a specially developed website.

UTV’s Tracey Magee, in her blog from New York

But Dr Haass admitted that there was some "urgency" and that there should not be complacency because of any previous progress.

"We got a little bit of a glimpse over the last six to nine months that things could slide back, if people act badly, if people do not act responsibly.

"So I'm hoping that creates a context where perhaps there is a greater will to make some difficult choices and to defend some difficult choices publicly than perhaps would have been the case otherwise."

Dr Haass said all parties have been asked to put forward ideas in writing for the discussions, his team will put forward ideas and input from outside will also be factored in.

The talks chief said politicians would ultimately have to decide towards the end of the process if they can commit to recommendations.

© UTV News
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18 Comments
uravinalaugh in derry wrote (351 days ago):
@ray in carrickfergus. Ah well as long as we have eachother, we will settle for a tent; but on a more serious note you are absoloutly right and have a very good point about mixed housing.. doesit eben exist or is there plans for it? I would guess the bigots in stormont would not want these sort of places
Sunny in Belfast wrote (351 days ago):
More accusations of Culture this and denying that! UN quotes: "Human rights are neither representative of, nor oriented towards, one culture to the exclusion of others." "Human rights which relate to cultural diversity and integrity encompass a wide range of protections, including: the right to cultural participation; protection of persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities; ...the right to education; ...and the principle of non-discrimination." Catholic homes are closer to the marches than the Ardoyne shops but this is usually denied! Divisions need to end!
reality in Belfast wrote (354 days ago):
Make sure Robinson has mobile phones handy when he's in the talks to take calls from the orange order and loyalist bigots as he jumps to their tunes!!!
reality in Belfast wrote (354 days ago):
@rab. Instead of demanding concessions maybe you should attend spelling classes!!!
John in Creggan wrote (354 days ago):
@Rab in Belfast, What is it that you want? What concessions have Nationalists gained. If being treated in a fair & impartial manner is a concession how & why was it in Unionism's gift? The Protestant working class have been let down by weak political leaders, weak for not having the courage to tell the PUL community that the old order is over, weak in not explaining to them that global economics have seen there jobs lost to other countries not to Catholics. Weak for not explaining that most Nationalists accept the status quo in the North a fact that should make the PUL community feel more secure in the Union. Dissident Republicans have no sway within mainstream Nationalism, why are anti agreement Loyalists able to dictate to the Unionist mainstream? Rab Irelands constitutional claim to the North has gone, the power of the Catholic church has gone, Sinn Fein MLA's are members of a UK assembly & will eventually take their seats in Westminster now that coalition government is again likely after the next general election. Unionist fears look nothing more than sectarianism given the above.
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