Belfast Telegraph

'The Haass talks weren't a failure... we must work on to complete the task set out'

By CLAIRE GRAHAM

First Minister Peter Robinson has said negotiations aimed at resolving Northern Ireland's most divisive issues which ended without agreement were not a failure.

And he called for a working group – as recommended by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass – to take elements that were agreed forward.

It would also try to resolve areas where the parties have not been able to compromise.

Talks chairman Dr Haass has flown back to the US after urging politicians here to continue to try to seal an all-party deal on parades, flags and the past.

As he left, Dr Haass urged MLAs to engage in a "robust debate" over his final proposals, which were published on New Year's Eve. And last night the former White House envoy wrote on Twitter that it was "premature to speak of failure".

After many sleepless nights around the talks table, he added that he was now resuming his life, but would "monitor party support for document and political will in Northern Ireland to translate text into policies".

He also suggested that the spotlight should now be shone on the parties to approve his final proposals. A resolution on mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles was believed to be close. But there remains a gulf between unionists and nationalists on flags.

DUP leader Mr Robinson said the momentum of the talks process should not be lost.

"I want to thank Richard, Meghan (O'Sullivan) and their colleagues for months of arduous and comprehensive engagement carried out in the most respectful and meticulous manner," he said.

"Northern Ireland has much to thank them for and must demonstrate that the high level of agreement achieved can be built upon.

"I do not recognise as accurate reports of 'talks failure' given the wide gulf that existed on the Haass team's arrival and the broad areas of agreement on their departure. Yes, every party had, and expressed, concerns about features in the final product but I detect from each of the parties a willingness to 'work on' to complete the task. We must consider how best to do this in the near future.

"However, I think it is right that parties should first discuss the working report internally within their own structures while encouraging constructive debate more widely.

"We each must identify, not only areas where improvements are being sought, but also, how the problems identified by others can be accommodated in a way that does no injury to our own deeply held positions."

There has been widespread annoyance – from Prime Minister David Cameron to US President Barack Obama – that the talks did not lead to a deal.

QUOTES

"I will recommend to my party colleagues that they support the suggestion made by Dr Haass that a 'working group' be established to see how agreed elements can be taken forward while seeking to resolve areas where disagreement remains. We must not lose the momentum and we each should take care that areas of agreement are not allowed to unravel."

First Minister Peter Robinson

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