Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Haass aims for deal by Christmas

Dr Richard Haass says the parties can achieve a deal by Christmas.

A former US diplomat chairing key peace process talks in Northern Ireland has said he aims to reach meaningful agreement before Christmas.

Dr Richard Haass' efforts to reach accommodation on parades, flags and dealing with the legacy of the conflict, are reaching a climax ahead of his new year deadline to produce recommendations for the Executive.

Business leaders have urged politicians to grasp the opportunity to build confidence.

Dr Haass said: " What we expect is people to come to these meetings, prepared to address these meetings in detail. I want to leave you with a sense of urgency.

"Our goal has been, and our goal remains, to reach a meaningful agreement before Christmas.

"We continue to believe that, with commitment from our five parties in the Executive here, this goal remains do-able."

Dr Haass is leading talks between members of five political parties to attempt to broker a solution to issues which have at times polarised communities and sparked serious violence.

Parades and flags tensions have led to attacks on police and violent protests while the grievances of some victims from 30 years of conflict remain unresolved.

The US foreign policy expert is to hold separate meetings with each of the parties on flags, parades and dealing with the past.

Tensions boiled over this year as Belfast city-centre trouble caused lost trade and Northern Ireland's reputation has suffered internationally from coverage of sporadic but fierce sectarian fighting.

The CBI in Northern Ireland joined other business groups in a call to action.

"As the Haass talks resume in Belfast today, the business community is urging our political leaders to grasp the opportunity of the talks process to help to continue to build confidence as the economic recovery takes hold in 2014," they said.

"The next two weeks provide a window of opportunity within which the entire business community, and we believe the vast majority of the wider community, wishes to encourage our politicians to use constructively and wisely.

"There is a high expectation within the business community that these talks can and indeed must deliver solutions within this timeframe."

The CBI, the Institute of Directors, Federation of Small Businesses and Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce issued a joint plea for progress.

"As we look towards a strengthening economic recovery in 2014, an agreement on these issues will provide a significant boost to confidence and stability," the organisations said.

"It will also create the conditions where we can collectively focus on how we can create better-paid jobs, and more of them."

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