Diplomat Richard Haass to lead talks on bridging divides in Northern Ireland
An American diplomat is to lead fresh talks to resolve some of the most divisive and controversial issues in Northern Ireland.
Richard Haass, a former US envoy to the region, was appointed to chair the all-party talks on flags, parades and the past.
In a joint statement the First and Deputy First Ministers said Dr Haass was the agreed choice as chairman among the five parties represented in the power-sharing Stormont Executive.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said: "We are deeply grateful that an international figure of Dr Haass's standing has agreed to facilitate these important discussions which we hope will provide long-term and sustainable solutions that are in the best interests of the community."
It is hoped the all-party group will bring forward recommendations by the end of this year on issues such as parades and protests, flags, symbols and emblems. It will also deal with related matters stemming from the past which were not dealt with in the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.
Dr Haass was US special envoy to Northern Ireland in 2001-03 during George Bush's tenure as president, and often found himself at odds with Sinn Fein.
He was in Ireland during the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and quickly put pressure on Sinn Fein to secure IRA decommissioning.
He told it how there was now zero tolerance in the US for any form of terrorism and that, after the arrests of three men with IRA links in Colombia, republicans had little choice.
In a keynote speech by the ambassador in 2002, Dr Haass highlighted unionist concerns about the implementation of the Agreement. He called for recognition of "growing insecurity" in the Protestant community and said failure to do so would threaten the peace process.
He said: "The leaders of Northern Ireland must resist appealing only to the dissatisfied. Leaders have a responsibility to future generations to lay the groundwork for an inclusive society."
Dr Richard Haass is best known here as the former US Envoy to Northern Ireland from 2001-03. Born in New York, in July 1951, he has been president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think-tank, since 2003. He previously worked for the US State Department and received its Distinguished Honor Award for his work in Northern Ireland.