US administration piles pressure on Northern Ireland's politicians to reach agreement on Haass proposals before St Patrick's Day
Published 17/01/2014 | 01:30
Pressure from the US administration is set to grow on Northern Ireland's politicians to reach agreement on the Haass proposals by St Patrick's Day – opening the prospect of an announcement of a deal from the White House.
Martin McGuinness yesterday said agreement on flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles must be reached by St Patrick's Day, when Northern Ireland's politicians traditionally decamp to Washington.
Asked what he believed the timescale for agreement was, the Sinn Fein MLA said: "I'll tell you what I think the American's deadline is. This needs to be done before St Patrick's Day," he said.
"Every year we are invited to the White House to meet with the President. They've taken a huge interest. If politicians have any respect for themselves, if politicians have any respect for our community, we will do this – we will crack this – in the course of the coming days and weeks. Not months."
The Deputy First Minister was speaking shortly after David Cameron and US President Barack Obama discussed the Haass talks in a phone call. Northern Ireland was third on their agenda of four items, after Syria and Afghanistan.
But if a deal is struck by St Patrick's Day, it could give Northern Ireland's leaders the opportunity to strut on the world stage in a way they haven't been able to since the 1998 agreement.
After the phone call, No.10 said the two leaders had agreed that the process started by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass must be led by Northern Ireland's own politicians. But they also said they would help and encourage local leaders.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Responsibility for finding a way forward continues to lie with political leaders in Northern Ireland, and the UK and US governments will continue to encourage this process."
Unlike Senator George Mitchell when he chaired the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, Dr Haass did not have the authority of the US government behind him during the talks.
But it is understood Washington is now considering throwing its weight more explicitly behind him in the run-up to St Patrick's Day. The move could inject new momentum and urgency into a process that has become rudderless.
"There's a lot more work to be done before there's true unity in that country."
US President Barack Obama (below) at last year's St Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington