Belfast Telegraph

Haass Talks: Belfast City Hall rally will urge parties to do deal

By NOEL MCADAM

A groundswell of public opinion angry over the failure of the Haass talks is set to take to the streets, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The main trade unions body is urging civic groups to back a major public rally in Belfast to demand an end to the ongoing political paralysis.

The Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (NIC-ICTU) intends to lead the demonstration in the city centre on Friday, January 31.

But it hopes civil society will fall in behind the lunchtime event at the City Hall (1-1.30pm) and urge the parties to show leadership and find a way forward.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have endorsed the blueprint – which would set up a new commission to examine flags – but the DUP and Alliance are unhappy with major elements, and Ulster Unionists have dismissed the Haass document as "unviable".

NIC-ICTU assistant general secretary Peter Bunting said: "The rally is an attempt to show politicians that people out there support their politician leaders reaching an accommodation.

The resigned laugh that says Dr Haass isn't coming back... 

"The province has been confronted by political paralysis during the past year and the politicians really need to show leadership."

He said the failure of the five main parties to reach an agreement on the Haass document had come on top of a rise in violence by paramilitary groups and increasing inter-community tensions on flags and parades.

Meanwhile, the Assembly returns from its Christmas and New Year recess on Monday with the fallout from the Haass negotiations high on the agenda – and the five parties facing five different ways.

A Sinn Fein motion urges immediate implementation of the proposals on dealing with the past, parading and flags.

But a DUP amendment instead welcomes a meeting of the five parties – likely to involve Peter Robinson, Gerry Adams, Mike Nesbitt, Alasdair McDonnell and David Ford – on Tuesday "to consider the next steps".

An amendment from Ulster Unionists, who have rejected the Haass report, calls on First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to agree proposals for a way forward.

And Alliance has tabled a third amendment arguing in favour of urgent steps to move forward on the provisions for dealing with the past and a "time-limited, independently chaired mechanism" to reach agreement on parades and flags.

The debate comes as Mr Robinson yesterday hit back at criticism from talks chair Dr Richard Haass.

Mr Robinson said: "It says an awful lot if the two nationalist parties are jumping up and down ready to sign up to a deal but no unionist is prepared to go with it."

WHAT'S NEXT?

Monday – Assembly debate on the Haass proposals with Sinn Fein urging immediate implementation.

Tuesday – leaders of the five main parties due to meet to discuss setting up a "working group".

Thursday – possible discussion at the Stormont Executive meeting.

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