Richard Haass: the majority in Northern Ireland ready for compromise and progress
The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are ready for compromise and progress, American diplomat Richard Haass has said.
The man heading up talks on the crunch issues of flags, parades and dealing with the past also warned it was too soon to calculate whether the inter-party negotiations will succeed.
Returning to Belfast yesterday, Mr Haass spoke of his "strong sense" that people here want to live more "normal" lives – where the public issues are more akin to the concerns of people in other European countries.
Mr Haass and his team have a full week of engagements ahead, in London today to meet Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, then Dublin on Thursday where the schedule includes Taoiseach Enda Kenny, before a round-table session on Friday of the five parties which make up the Executive.
Yesterday he met parties from outside the Executive including the Greens, who declined to make any comment on the detail of the talks, NI21 and Ukip MLA David McNarry (below).
He also confirmed receiving a large amount of written submissions, but said he remained in the "listening and learning" phase.
He added: "There's a point at which one starts to pivot and that will happen on my next visit in November, December (which is) obviously when we are working with the leadership of the five parties to try to come to some common language." The ex-White House staffer said he was not overly concerned about the effect of events outside of the talks process – such as the anniversaries of the Shankill bomb last week and the Greysteel massacre this week.
He said the public mood or temperature rarely reflected the reality of the state of the negotiations.
He said Northern Ireland represented an "extremely complex set of issues" with a wide range of perspectives.
"Northern Ireland has a special set of challenges because it has had a special history," he said.
"On the other hand, you do want to get to the point where things are, if you will, normal here. The people, I believe, are ready for that. There's been an awful lot of progress. There's more progress to be made. There's also some concern about some things that threaten the progress.
"From my own sense – from the bulk of the submissions – is that people, the vast majority of the people, they are ready for compromise, are ready for progress, are ready to move on."
Following his meeting Mr McNarry said he had told Mr Haass he wished to see the Union flag reinstated 365 days at Belfast's City Hall and the Portadown and Ligoniel Orange lodges being able to complete their 12th of July walks.
A submission from Ukip added: "Unionists are convinced the talks set-up is premised on adhering to the republicans' terms of engagement – otherwise Sinn Fein would not be at the table.
"Under these starting orders the only likely outcome for unionists will be a sell-out."
Richard Haass' diary of engagements for the remainder of the week:
Today: Secretary of State Theresa Villiers and Shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis in London
Thursday: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore
Friday: Victims' Commissioner Kathryn Stone in Belfast