Belfast Telegraph

Richard Haass talks: Blame game gets under way in earnest

By NOEL MCADAM

Ulster Unionists and Alliance have clashed as the political momentum of the Haass talks process begins to show signs of flagging.

The fallout from the failure to reach agreement over flags, parading and the past brought a resumption of the blame game between the parties.

The further unravelling since First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made public the final text produced by Dr Haass came as parties began their post-talks internal consultations.

The SDLP last night confirmed its support for the Haass proposals and setting up a working group. Party leader Alasdair McDonnell said: "The SDLP believe that the opportunity of this moment needs to be grasped.

"I will write to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to urge that a five party working group is immediately convened. Its purpose is not a talking shop and to again go around the houses. Its purpose to is work up the implementation of the Haass O'Sullivan proposals, plan the legislation that is necessary and bring resolution to issues that remain."

UUP boss Mike Nesbitt said the major problem with getting the process back on track was the Alliance Party "cherry-picking" the final document. Mr Nesbitt, who refused to reveal whether he would recommend acceptance of the text when he meets his party executive on Monday, added: "Cherry-picking is a Pandora's box, once opened, very difficult to contain."

He also called on Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to take the next steps.

But Alliance negotiator Chris Lyttle said unionist parties had refused to even consider proposals on the regulation of flags on lampposts. And the East Belfast MLA said his party had real concerns about the attitude and motivation of other parties on the flags issue and the consequences for failing to show leadership.

Sinn Fein, meanwhile, urged the Stormont parties not to fudge their responses to the proposals and warned they would have problems in selling aspects of the document to its support base.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said: "(We) would like to have seen some aspects of the proposed agreement strengthened and improved further. More work is required on parity of esteem, equality and respect for all cultures and identities. However, agreement on everything was not possible."

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