31 Dec 2013

Flags scupper Northern Ireland’s Haass talks

Disputes over flags and parades in Northern Ireland proved too great for the country’s politicians who failed to agree a compromise on these and other outstanding issues from the peace process.

The talks led by US diplomat Richard Haass broke up this morning having failed to reach an agreement by the deadline of the end of the year. Politicians coming out of a marathon 19 hour negotiation that finished around 5am on Tuesday said they were disappointed but that significant progress had been made.

“Yes, it would have been nice to come out here tonight and say we have got all five parties completely signed on to the text. We are not there,” said Dr Haass, who was commissioned by Northern Ireland’s First Minister Peter Robinson to lead six months of talks with all five of Ulster’s main political parties,

“All the parties support significant parts of the agreement. At the same time, all have some concerns,” he said.

“We very much hope that the parties reflect on this, discuss it with their leadership and come back with a strong endorsement. Over the next week we will know a lot more.”

Flags and disputed parades were understood to be some of the sticking points for the discussions with Unionists more unhappy than Nationalists with what had been agreed. Consensus on the treatment of victims of terrorism in the Troubles was one achievement however, said exiting politicians.

Unionists reject ‘language’ of deal

Nationalist parties Sinn Fein and the SDLP declared they endorsed or expected to endorse the final plan Dr Haass put on the table. The 40 page document was the seventh plan the US diplomat had created in the six months of back-and-forth negotiations.

It was objections from the DUP – the largest unionist party – that ended up scuppering the deal last night.

The DUP’s chief negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson said progress was made but a final deal could not be struck. He said the “broad architecture” of Dr Haass’s paper contained “much merit” but some of the language and detail “was not what we would have chosen and in some instances we profoundly disapprove of the language”.

In some instances we profoundly disapprove of the language Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP

Unionists also indicated concerns with how much focus was placed on killings by the police and army.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said “bigger and better solutions” were needed on some aspects, but said he would be recommending that his party give a general endorsement to what had been proposed.

“I have always said that the first test of progress must be comprehensive proposals to address the past. That is the biggest strength of the Haass/O’Sullivan [deal].”

Alliance Party deputy leader Naomi Long criticised proposals on parades and flags, but she also said great work had been done on the issue of the past: “We have seen a huge sea change in the level of political agreement which has exceeded public expectation, particularly in delivering for the victims and the reconciliation process,” said the East Belfast MP.

Both British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Irish Taisoeach Enda Kenny said they were disappointed that the talks had ended in no resolution.