Late night Haass talks 'near end'

Published Monday, 30 December 2013
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The final round of political negotiations chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass is continuing into the night in a last-ditch attempt to find cross-community agreement on three contentious issues affecting Northern Ireland.

The region's five main political parties are expected to continue discussions on the seventh and final draft submitted by Dr Haass' team in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Dr Haass and Professor Meghan O'Sullivan cut short their Christmas breaks to return to Belfast on Saturday morning in a bid to help politicians broker a deal on how to manage parades, flags and dealing with the past.

Dr Haass has warned the DUP, Sinn Féin, UUP, SDLP and Alliance that it is time to "fish or cut bait" and originally set a deadline for agreement for noon on Monday.

Earlier he said they were "extraordinarily close" to a resolution after marathon talks at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast.

On Monday morning, he tweeted: "(I) have long said the only day of a negotiation that counts is the last day. Today is the last day here in Belfast. Hope NI leaders seize it."

While a deal is thought to be reasonably close on parades and dealing with the past, flags has been more difficult to resolve.

Dr Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and an envoy to Northern Ireland from 2001-2003, and Meghan O'Sullivan, a Harvard professor with experience in post-conflict Iraq, were asked in July by the Stormont executive to submit recommendations for dealing with the region's unresolved issues.

They were given an end-of-year deadline to report.

Meanwhile Secretary of State Theresa Villiers issued a statement wishing all the Northern Ireland parties well in the last stages of the talks.

"I hope all sides will be able to show flexibility to make an agreement possible on these divisive issues.

"From my many conversations on this over recent days, I am encouraged about the prospects for agreement, although some key issues are yet to be resolved, particularly on the past," she concluded.

Sinn Féin's negotiator Gerry Kelly said, as he arrived to the talks, that he was "hopeful that an agreement could be achieved today."

"Throughout this process Sinn Féin have a track record in negotiations of making and honouring agreements. That is the approach we have taken to these talks.

"There is an opportunity today to close on these outstanding issues. We are hopeful that progress can be made and a deal done."

Leaving to brief his party on Monday afternoon, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said that they were getting there.

He said that there was an "awful lot of detail," and so it was taking a little bit longer than scheduled.

However, Mr Nesbitt said that they were "on course."

But DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson later said further work was needed.

"I think there is still some way to travel," he said on Monday evening.

A final plenary meeting of all parties is expected to begin in the early hours of Tuesday morning when negotiators will decide whether to sign off on a final deal.

Dr Haass is due to return to the US later on Tuesday.

© UTV News
Comments Comments
16 Comments
darren in armagh wrote (113 days ago):
there better b an agreement if there isnt get them all out and a new generation in its time 2 move forward
Kate Beard in Belfast wrote (113 days ago):
Nice to see politicos, having a nice time in warm hotel while pensioners and unemployed starve. How much did this cost?
jimmymac in canada wrote (113 days ago):
"Time will tell,just who has fell and who's been left behind" That is a quote from an old Bob Dylan, song called (Most likely you go you way and ill go mine) Which sadly seems to be the way the N I politicians are heading, regarding the Haass,-talks.Too Bad...
david in bangor wrote (114 days ago):
give every working person paying tax in this country the power to decide on these issues, afterall we are paying the bills under the union flag and all the people on long term benefits who are fit to work and have the time to disrupt the rest of us on our roads with reckless security alerts or pathetic flag protests can just wait on our decision...that goes for the politians too, decent people don't want to vote for any of you. give the power back to the tax payers and hold a referendum....should any flags be flowen - yes or no? should we hold parades of any sort - yes or no? should we investigate the past yes or no? - tick a box.
Mystic Rod in Realworld wrote (114 days ago):
By the time you read this, a deal still won't be complete!!!
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