Haass proposals include flying Tricolour

Haass proposals include flying Tricolour

Draft proposals by US diplomat Richard Haass which left First Minister Peter Robinson fuming include the possibility of flying the Irish Tricolour on government buildings in Northern Ireland.

Dr Haass has given himself until the end of the year to find ways to resolve divisive issues like flags and emblems, parades and the past.

The flag situation has been a particular hot topic after Belfast City Council voted a year ago to reduce the flying of the Union flag at City Hall to designated days, sparking protests which are still ongoing.

Journalist and commentator Brian Rowan told UTV: "My understanding is that, on the Union flag for instance - and Belfast City Council in particular - there is no advance on designated days.

"Controversially, most controversially, Haass has also identified days when he thinks it would be appropriate to fly the Tricolour."

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.

First Minister Peter Robinson

The occasions when Dr Haass thinks the Tricolour could be flown are understood to be during Irish state visits, for example.

"As one unionist said to me: 'Enda Kenny is up and down here like a yo-yo.' He was asking how many times then would the Tricolour be on Parliament Buildings?" the commentator added.

First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson declared that some of the proposals were "totally unacceptable" and that his party would be outraged if they went ahead.

"That (the Tricolour proposal) would have been high on the list of the things that angered the DUP," Mr Rowan said.

Regarding the Union flag, Dr Haass has proposed that it could be flown on other councils buildings on designated days, in line with Belfast City Hall.

"As I understand it, and this is how it is being interpreted, there would be an opt-out in council areas for instance where there is a nationalist majority, if that was so decided," Brian Rowan explained.

"And there's a bit of confusion about those council areas which fly the flag in 365 days of the year - would they still be able to fly it on that number of days?"

The proposals are very much in the draft stages and work is continuing to break the stalemate and find viable solutions to long-running issues.

On Tuesday, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told UTV: "We've been giving our feedback to Dr Haass and his team and we've been very clear on where we stand on each of the three issues."

When asked whether progress had been made, he said: "That remains to be seen because, of course, Dr Haass has to talk to all of the parties and then, come back with a further draft of the document based on those discussions.

"But we've laid down some very clear red lines in relation to each of the three issues in hand and I think he'll be left in no doubt about our position."

When pressed, he said: "We are very clear that what is proposed on flags is totally unacceptable. It is not a basis for agreement of any kind on flags and that is, for us, a bottom line issue."

Alliance Deputy Leader Naomi Long MP said that the flying of flags is a sensitive issue in a divided society.

She said that as attempts are made to find a resolution, there are important principles which need to be considered including reflecting the constitutional position, mutual respect and, crucially, building a more united community.

"We want to see the issue of flags resolved across all Councils ahead of the reorganisation of local government, in order that the issue of flags does not become a distraction from the important business they need to address," Ms Long continued.

"The current Haass talks provide an opportunity for us to do this comprehensively and the poll makes it clear that if parties are interested in promoting the common good, a solution based on designated days is the most viable way forward."

Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin's North Belfast MLA, is hopeful of some form of agreement soon.

"There are difficulties, we always knew there would be. We knew that this would be an intensive period. We're trying to use that intensive period to bring it to a conclusion.

"When you get parties where sin some of these aspects, they come from diametrically opposed positions, then it is a job of work to be able to get to some place where we can all sign up to a full document - that's what we intend to do - that's what we want to do."

He continued: "We think it is possible to do that and we think it's possible to do that in the time frame."


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