No overnight Haass deal reached

Published Tuesday, 24 December 2013
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Through the night political negotiations in Belfast have failed to produce an agreement to deal with unresolved peace process issues in Northern Ireland.

No overnight Haass deal reached
Dr Meghan O'Sullivan and Dr Richard Haass pictured in Belfast overnight. (© Presseye)

Hours of intensive talks involving Stormont's five Executive parties, which were chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, ended around 4am without a pre-Christmas agreement.

Dr Haass, who has an end-of-year deadline to find consensus on disputes over flags, parades and the legacy of the Troubles, will now fly back for Christmas in the United States.

But he said he and talks co-chairwoman Dr Meghan O'Sullivan, a US foreign affairs expert, will consider returning next weekend if they believe an eleventh hour deal could yet be struck.

A fifth version of a document is set to be created. The deal brokers will send questions to the parties from the US and, based on the answers received, will produce yet another draft set of proposals.

If the reaction from the parties to that new document suggests further progress can be made, Dr Haass said he and Dr O'Sullivan would fly back.

Emerging from the meeting at the Stormont Hotel, Dr Haass insisted the process was not dead.

"I am not in the business of doing post mortems here because the patient is still alive," he said.

Dr Haass said there continued to be "significant differences and divisions" among the parties on all three issues being discussed.

Some progress has been made on parades and dealing with the past, but the sticking point is the flying of flags.

It is understood the politicians have effectively conceded that another forum will need to be established to examine issues around flags over a longer time frame.

The work done on flags is quite disappointing by any measure.

Dr Richard Haass

"But the other two areas have been, I believe, quite impressive and I believe it would be a real shame not to be able to turn that work into a reality."

He added: "We would like to think there is reason to return."

If the fifth draft secures a breakthrough on the two other areas, it should pave the way for a replacement for the Parades Commission to rule on contentious marches by unionist and nationalist groups, and on a new mechanism to oversee dealing with the legacy of the past - potentially one offering limited immunity from prosecution to those who co-operate.

Dr Haass made it clear that work commitments meant neither he or Dr O'Sullivan would be able to engage in the process beyond the end of the year.

The former White House special envoy to the region was appointed in the summer by the First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to oversee the talks initiative.

A crunch plenary meeting had been due to commence at 11am on Monday, but it did not get under way until just before 9pm that night, with the politicians having spent most of the day assessing Dr Haass's fourth draft document.

The exchanges ran through the night, with Dr Haass pressing for a breakthrough before he had to travel to Dublin to catch a morning flight back across the Atlantic.

After the talks broke up without success, he said: "Let me be clear about this - we don't have an agreement, (but) in no way have we given up the possibility of still reaching an agreement before the end of the year.

"We are not going to be able to put it underneath anyone's Christmas tree but we still have a week and if there is reason to return - I think we will have the answer to that question when we get the responses to a new draft that we will produce over the next few days - then both of us are willing to come back here, fly back here and give it one last push."

I hope that work can continue after Christmas to see if an agreement can be reached on these difficult issues. In the many conversations I have had with party leaders and others over recent days, I have been impressed by the commitment they have shown and the willingness to consider the point of view of others.

Theresa Villiers, NI Secretary of State

After the night's meeting, DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson said he felt the outstanding problems could be fixed.

"Obviously I think everyone is disappointed that we are not having an agreement at this stage," said the Lagan Valley MP.

"But we have to be realistic - there remain significant issues of difference across all three areas that were under negotiation.

"I think with further effort we are capable of closing the gap but it just didn't happen tonight."

Sinn Féin's talks spokesman Gerry Kelly said the party's negotiators had been mandated by its ruling executive to try to secure agreement in the meeting.

"We are disappointed that we weren't able to do that," he said.

"Probably more important is that people watching this will be more disappointed if we can't bring this to some sort of conclusion in the few next few days and phases.

"When it came to a deal, I think we could have done it, (but) we didn't manage to do it."

Alliance party deputy leader Naomi Long said while the process was not dead, it was on "life support".

"We need to go and we need to reflect on the conversations we have had and we need to find ways of accommodating each other in this process," she added.

"Because ultimately, if we can accommodate each other in this process, we can go out with confidence and ask people in our community to accommodate each other in their communities. And that is hugely important in terms of transforming this landscape."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt expressed optimism as he left the talks.

"The deadline is next Tuesday, it wasn't today," he insisted.

"We didn't get there tonight but I think we did get real in terms of a better understanding of where everybody's bottom line is, and why they are taking the positions they are taking.

"So I remain optimistic - there's a lot that I think we can get over the line over the next few days and by next Tuesday, who knows, maybe we will have an agreement."

SDLP negotiator Alex Attwood said: "We said to Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan 'Safe home over the Atlantic and we will see you next weekend back in Belfast', because whilst we haven't got a Christmas Eve deal we can still achieve a New Year's Eve deal and that is the purpose of the next week."

© UTV News
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78 Comments
L in NI wrote (112 days ago):
Reading some of these comments just shows the pettiness of people in this country. 'It should be 50/50'.... Northern Ireland is funded by the British government, the hospitals, the roads, the benefits that some people that identify as Irish have no problem in claiming. I take neither side. If NI was funded by the Republic then fine, stick up the Irish flag, but until then, the flag of the UK should remain. We don't fly flags of Australia, Greece, or any other country, but give it time, someone else will be offended and we'll have them all up. This is ridiculous! Get rid of parades and 'talks' by ex criminals and everyone live their own lives instead of getting their knickers in a twist for nothing. The troubles are over, do you not want to move on & have a normal life??
Lorraine in North Antrim wrote (114 days ago):
If the 'flag issue' is the only issue standing in the way of a total agreement,I wholly support the creation of a 'New Flag' for the province. A flag design that ALL sides of the religious persuasion can devise and have gloriously flying above the City Hall. For goodness sake, we have lived with this out-of-date, 'Old Boys' club of politics for too long. Personally, I can't wait until we get the next generation of politician in place. Then maybe we can get progress on health, education and transport. I totally agree with Liam form Belfast, STOP our politician's pay and only reinstate it when they have proven they have worked for it.
Michael in Belfast wrote (115 days ago):
@Jackie, The orange part. Just becasuse it's been used at terrorist funerals doesn't change the colour of it or the meaning behind those colours. Also you may want to consider the usage of the Union flag over the past 50 yrs, not just in NI but around the world.
Ryan in An Dun wrote (115 days ago):
@jackie in Belfast. The tricolour represents me. I feel the Union Jack that is flown on public buildings here represents some of the worst terrorist atrocities. If you want to live in your wee world and believe The British and Americans governments can do no wrong. The likes of the Bengal famine and the partition of India. And you don't like republicans honouring their dead?
jackie in belfast wrote (116 days ago):
Dorothy in Kansas say that the tricolour represents all the people of this island but that is not the case, you see it is highly offensive to the unionist population. Yeah check out IRA funerals with the tricolour draped over the coffin, sometimes carried by Mr Adams who was never a member, and tell me which part of this flag represents me ?
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