Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

DUP demands changes to proposals

Dr Richard Haass is making recommendations on dealing with issues left outstanding from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Dr Richard Haass is making recommendations on dealing with issues left outstanding from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Changes to fresh proposals on dealing with contentious flags, parades and the region's troubled past have been demanded by Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson's Democratic Unionists.

With little likelihood of an agreement being reached before the weekend, MP Jeffrey Donaldson said significant areas still needed to be resolved - even though there had been some progress.

He declared: "There will have to be further changes made if the document is to be acceptable."

The former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, who is in Belfast chairing negotiations, will meet the five main parties separately tomorrow before all sides gather at the talks table some time in the afternoon.

He had hoped they could reach a deal but that now looks highly unlikely and it seems the dialogue is set to drag on over the weekend. The DUP's main coalition partners Sinn Fein said they were prepared to wait until Christmas Eve if an accommodation could be reached.

But Mr Donaldson added: "There are some silly things in there that need to be taken out.

"There are some things in there that really don't belong in this document, that frankly I struggle to see the relevance of in terms of the overall issues and they need to be dealt with."

A new authority for dealing with parades, which have been a major source of community division, and a unit for investigating the toxic legacy of a 30-year conflict which has left thousands dead and injured is believed to be among the Haass proposals.

A resolution of flags differences, which sparked pitched battles between loyalists and police earlier this year following restrictions to the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall, appears further away after DUP First Minister Peter Robinson said they had moved backwards.

Sinn Fein minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: "We are prepared to work right up to Christmas Eve if need be, but certainly if people have good will and have intent to reach agreement of course a deal can be done."

Nationalist SDLP MLA Alex Attwood added: "I f we continue to hear the voices of victims and survivors, if no-one, no party rushes to judgment, if the confidentiality of the talks are honoured, then I think big things can happen in a short space of time, if everybody approaches this process in that way."

Dr Haass was recruited by the Stormont executive to make recommendations on dealing with issues left outstanding from the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which largely ended paramilitary violence.

Restrictions on where loyal order marchers can parade have sparked violent stand-offs with police brought in to enforce determinations by the existing Parades Commission. Dissident republican supporters opposed to the peace process have taken advantage to attack the police.

Separate Union flag protests also turned violent.

Sinn Fein calls for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission to examine the wrongs of the past have met unionist concerns that republicans will not come clean about their role during the conflict.

Dr Haass' first draft document was rejected by unionists earlier this week.

The First Minister said had it been the final paper, steam would have been coming out of his ears.

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