Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 30 October 2014

Failure of Haass talks reverberates across the globe

Frustration in Washington, London and Dublin over Haass talks debacle

Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan at 5.30 yesterday morning after the talks ended without any resolution
Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan at 5.30 yesterday morning after the talks ended without any resolution

Frustration at Northern Ireland's political parties in the aftermath of the failed Haass talks went global last night as the White House urged MLAs to plough on.

Minutes before the final text of the negotiations were published online, a spokeswoman for the Obama administration said: "We are disappointed that Northern Ireland's political leaders did not conclude an agreement today."

The stalled blueprint for dealing with the most divisive issues in Northern Ireland was drawn up by former US diplomat Richard Haass, who chaired a six-month, five-party talks process that ended at 5am yesterday – without a deal being signed.

The White House statement said: "We believe that the draft text produced through the all-party process represents real progress and makes a valuable contribution.

"We urge Northern Ireland's political leaders to continue to work together to build on this progress."

Prime Minister David Cameron also voiced his annoyance after the marathon talks ended with no agreement in the early hours of yesterday morning.

"Although it is disappointing the parties have not been able to reach full agreement at this stage, these talks have achieved much common ground. I urge the parties to keep going," he said.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers added: "If you look at issues of identity, some people would argue that it's been a problem for the last 800 years. In many ways, it's not surprising that it hasn't been fixed in three months."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Dublin Government would work with both London and Stormont to support further efforts to achieve greater peace. The Fine Gael chief called on the leaders of the five main political parties to "reflect" on the negotiations.

Their comments came as the inter-party talks broke up in the early hours of New Year's Eve without agreement on the three tasks – although a resolution on mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles was believed to be close.

Dr Haass took to Twitter also to urge the parties to endorse his blueprint and "move with dispatch to implement those initiatives (especially re past) where there is agreement".

And he later added: "Appreciate the many generous comments; thank you. truly believe the text provides a foundation for reconciliation and better future for NI."

The two main nationalist parties, Sinn Fein and the SDLP, are broadly supportive of the text – the seventh draft drawn up during more than 15 days of hothouse talks.

However, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said his party had little confidence a proposed new commission could resolve the flags issue and was disappointed the Maze/Long Kesh development had not been advanced.

But he also said a basis for compromise on dealing with the past had been proposed. "That is what the majority of our people want. Closure for victims and survivors is the real benchmark against which this proposition will, in time, be judged," he said.

But the DUP and Ulster Unionists are opposed to major elements of the proposals, including a code of conduct for marchers.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said, however: "There can be no ambiguity about how any protester, bandsman, or marcher conducts themselves in public. That needs a Code of Practice in law and that in full deals with how people conduct themselves on the public highway – not least outside homes, schools and churches." Alliance, the fifth party involved in the talks, said while it could support the plans for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles there had only been limited progress on parades and a refusal by other parties "to consider the public aspiration for regulation of flags on lampposts and a common policy of designated days for the Union flag on council headquarters".

The Sinn Fein negotiating team is to recommend the text to the party's ruling executive (ard chomhairle) and SDLP leader Mr McDonnell said he was calling for a general endorsement.

The DUP said it was consulting internally while Ulster Unionists are organising a meeting of their executive for next week.

After the talks broke up, DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson said: "We do not have an agreement this evening but we are committed to continuing this work beyond now in dialogue with others to try and resolve the outstanding issues that need to be addressed."

Dr Haass told a Press conference that a working group made up from the five Executive parties would now be set up to attempt to chart a way forward in 2014 on the "significant progress" made.

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