Belfast Telegraph

Theresa Villiers hits back at Labour criticism over Richard Haass talks role

BY COLIN O'CARROLL

Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has hit back at charges the Government is "semi-detached" from the Haass group's attempt to solve the contentious areas of flags, parading and the past.

She made her comments at an 'Ulster Fry' meeting at the Conservative Party Conference.

Replying to charges from Shadow Labour Northern Ireland spokesman Vernon Coaker, Ms Villiers said: "The UK Government is very supportive of the Haass process.

"This might come as news to my Labour Shadow, we're also very engaged with the Haass process and I've already had two in-depth sessions with Dr Haass and his team, and over the last fortnight I've discussed the issues he's examining with each of the parties in the Executive."

She said the Government was also keeping a close eye on the Haass process because it may be needed to implement legislation if there was an agreed outcome: "So to suggest that the UK Government is semi-detached from the process lacks any credibility."

Ms Villiers said there was a third reason for the close interest in the Haass talks.

She said: "I firmly believe that it's the economy which remains the number one priority for many people in Northern Ireland, and it's clear that Northern Ireland will never reach its full economic potential when sectarian division keeps fuelling street violence and the kind of disgraceful attacks on police officers we've seen this year."

Villiers went on to praise her party's economic performance in advance of a major economic conference here next week.

"It's equally important that renewed vigour and determination goes into delivering on the other big challenges," she said. "That's the message the Prime Minister and I will be taking to the investment conference next week."

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