Haass talks 'have laid foundations'
Talks aimed at resolving tensions over parades, flags and addressing Northern Ireland's conflict legacy have laid foundations for a more peaceful future, the First Minister said.
Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson said the main power-sharing parties in Belfast were determined to move forward amid efforts to salvage a deal.
Negotiations chaired by a former US diplomat ended without agreement on New Year's Eve.
Mr Robinson said: "The talks chaired by Richard Haass have not yet produced agreement but considerable progress is being made towards resolving some of the most intractable problems from the past.
"Even attempting to tackle matters considered too difficult in the past is a sign of the determination of the parties to move forward.
"We may not have completed the task but we have laid the foundations and created the environment for a more peaceful and prosperous future. And the political stability that has been achieved is the bedrock of the economic progress being made."
He addressed an accountants' dinner in Dublin.
Dr Haass, who chaired a six-month talks process in a bid to find agreement, proposed a blueprint settlement which has yet to achieve consensus.
It follows months of sectarian violence over restrictions on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall and contentious loyal order parades plus divisions over how more than 3,000 unresolved conflict deaths are dealt with, be that by attempting to prosecute offenders or recovering as much truth as possible through granting limited immunity from legal proceedings for perpetrators.
While Sinn Fein and the nationalist SDLP aim to implement the Haass document as it stands, the DUP and Ulster Unionists want significant elements re-negotiated. The parties have met regularly since the start of the year.
Mr Robinson said members of the devolved administration at Stormont had managed to establish a stable and lasting government.
"Things haven't always been easy and there are still major challenges to overcome, but we have achieved something previously felt impossible."
He said there had been tangible benefits - for road building, health and energy - in co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic and noted substantial economic improvement.
"Both of us have much more to do but I am convinced we can look forward to much brighter days," he said.
Northern Ireland ministers want to reduce the levy placed on large businesses to encourage firms to invest and create jobs. The Republic has enjoyed a relatively low corporation tax rate for years.
Mr Robinson said: "While we may admire the capacity to exploit an advantage, whatever the circumstance, the truth is that only by working together North and South, East and West, and in the public and private sectors will we guarantee a better future for all of our people."
He added: "In many ways it is remarkable that what was once the most thorny of issues is now almost entirely uncontroversial.
"This new equilibrium has been good for both administrations and for the island as a whole. By focusing on outcomes we have found a way to work together in all of our interests."