Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Noel McAdam: All-party talks

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson will face Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein across the negotiation table on parades, flags and dealing with the past.

The two men worked together as junior ministers under Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness and have taken part in joint initiatives.

They hosted the launch at Parliament Buildings of a poster campaign aimed at young people with the message: 'Wise up. Say No to interface violence'.

And, in 2008, they travelled to New York to receive the Peace Dove Award at a Co-Operation Ireland dinner.

Now, five years on, an American already very familiar in political circles in the province is travelling in the opposite direction to try to address some of our deep-rooted problems.

Just over a month remains before the process headed up by American diplomat Richard Haass is due to get under way.

Mid-September has been pencilled in for the start of negotiations, with reports that the first round-table session will take place on Monday, September 16.

From there it is a tight timetable for discussions, with a report expected by Christmas.

It is a heady agenda – the three most thorny issues left out of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness's blueprint for building a shared future.

And, in many ways, the issues – how contentious parades should be handled, the flying of flags and emblems and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles – are inter-linked.

Sinn Fein has said that its talks team will include an unelected representative and there is speculation that could be Declan Kearney, the party's chairman.

The DUP has yet to confirm who will accompany Mr Donaldson.

The Ulster Unionists have not yet confirmed their representatives, but it is believed the SDLP will be represented by the former environment minister Alex Attwood and South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt.

For Alliance, East Belfast MP Naomi Long and her MLA colleague Chris Lyttle will take part.

Interestingly, Mr McDevitt and Mr Lyttle took part in the Stormont working group, which attempted to hammer out agreed proposals on what was called the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration (CSI) strategy, but then fell apart when first Alliance and then the UUP walked away.

Will anyone walk away from the Haass hothouse?

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