Haass to begin crunch talks at Europa

Published Monday, 16 September 2013
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American diplomat Richard Haass is to begin the task of chairing cross-party negotiations on contentious political issues remaining in Northern Ireland.

Haass to begin crunch talks at Europa
Dr Richard Haass (centre) will chair the cross-party talks starting this week. (© UTV)

Politicians in the region have so far been unable to agree on a resolution on issues surrounding flags, parading and dealing with the past.

On Tuesday, Dr Haass will start a series of bilateral meetings, beginning with the SDLP and Sinn Féin at Belfast's Europa Hotel.

He will also speak to community groups, church leaders and business representatives over the next few days.

The initial discussions will culminate with the first plenary session on Friday.

Speaking last week, Dr Haass said there was some urgency for progress following a "difficult" year of violence related to parades and protests.

The former US envoy met First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in New York last week as a prelude to the talks - it was the first time the Northern Ireland leaders had been face-to-face since the DUP's withdrawal of support for the Peace and Reconciliation centre at the Maze site.

The Europa Hotel, once the most bombed hotel in Europe, has played host to many senior political figures over the years in the lead up to the Good Friday Agreement.

Michael Williamson, who worked as the hotel general manager in the 1990s, said it is critical that the talks are successful.

"Northern Ireland has come a very long way in the last decade and a half, but clearly our problems aren't behind us yet," Mr Williamson commented.

"I think until those issues are fully dealt with and effectively put to bed once and for all, the next major step in tourism may be more of a challenge."

In many ways the Europa became the maternity ward for the peace process and now I suppose you could say that this is the intensive care for the peace process.

Chris Ryder, journalist

Chris Ryder, retired Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph journalist, described the hotel as the "maternity ward of the peace process".

"When the Europa opened in 1971, the Troubles were at their peak, and we had a huge influx of journalists from news organisations from the rest of the UK and indeed throughout the world," he explained.

"At the escalation of the conflict, the city closed down at night, the Europa became a great big beacon of light and energy.The hotel itself became a target on many occasions, the bombs were directed at the hotel or other times the windows were blown in, the rooms were damaged because of bombs going off.

"The Europa symbolised the fight for normality against all the disorder, death and destruction that was going on round us."

Mr Ryder said the venue choice highlighted the work still outstanding.

"When the ultimate negotiations were underway, we had George Mitchell made his base here and President Clinton actually came to stay here to underline the peace process," he continued.

"Richard Haass is going to use the Europa to try and bridge and settle some of the differences that remain from the years of conflict which haven't been settled yet.

"The differences that Mr Haass has been asked to resolve are sometimes 200 or 300 years old, and I wouldn't be terribly optimistic he can do that in two or three months."

Mr Ryder concluded: "People are utterly disillusioned with politicians and Mr Haass has his work cut out to cut a deal on these deeply divisive open wounds that still remain before the peace process can be seen as utterly successful."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
36 Comments
Frank in Kilkeel Co Down wrote (377 days ago):
@deeko have looked at your comments in the past and stop sounding like a sectarian bigot all the time. What have the americans done on you anyway. Move on from the past there's no going back to the old stormont ways now so learn to live with the way it is or you will end up with direct rule again only this time from London & Dublin.
martin in belfast wrote (378 days ago):
The only thing that these meetings are about is how to convey the message to the PUL community that they no longer call the shots. The small percentage of thugs will no longer be allowed to wreck and ruin when they don't get their own childish way. Just so you guys 'that don't already know' are clear. There will be no more union flag flying at city hall 365 days a year and there will be no more forced hate marches through areas (and I mean both protestant and catholic areas).
Dub in Dublin wrote (379 days ago):
@gavin in england. Great comment and lets go back to 1969 while your at it and have stormont back with majority rule. Maybe we should go back even further when this island was not split up just to appease unionists. Unionists would not accept a majority wanting home rule back then.
Melal in Belfast wrote (379 days ago):
@deco- i also hope Mr Haas sees the support for the PLO (murals) in West Belfast! Confusing indeed!
Deeko in BELFAST UK wrote (379 days ago):
Yanks sort your own country out.Mass murder every day and RACISM STILL A MAJOR WAY OF LIFE IN THE GOOD OLD USA
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BRIAN ROWAN
Two comments, spoken tongue-in-cheek, nonetheless summed up the mood and the mire that is Stormont politics.
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