Dr Meghan O'Sullivan goes to Ardoyne: Haass talks aide meets UVF man in loyalist protest caravan
Published 21/11/2013 | 12:00
The vice-chair of the Haass talks has met with a leading member of the paramilitary UVF.
Dr Meghan O'Sullivan, an American academic and prominent member of Dr Richard Haass' team for the all-party talks, spent over an hour in the company of a delegation including north Belfast loyalist Winston Irvine.
The prominent PUP member has been accused in newspapers and on TV of being a commander of the terror group in the Shankill Road area.
Mr Irvine strongly denies the claims. He was the first to shake the hand of Dr O'Sullivan on her arrival in north Belfast.
She spent an hour talking to local politicians, clergy and community workers and was given a brief tour of the so-called civil rights camp set up at Twaddell Avenue on the interface with Ardoyne. Belfast councillor Lee Reynolds represented the DUP during the meeting.
She also visited Holy Cross Primary, picketed violently by loyalists in 2001 and 2002.
Dr O'Sullivan declined to comment during yesterday's engagements.
Mr Irvine said she was receptive to concerns raised by loyalists during the meeting at the Twaddell camp.
"We had a positive engagement and we believe she listened very carefully to the issues and concerns of this community," he said.
"I think today was the beginning of a longer discussion that will focus in on how we resolve the current issues in north Belfast in relation to the Crumlin Road.
"She absolutely gets the importance of identity and also understands this is a community that wants to find a resolution to the ongoing situation. I think she came away with a very good understanding of this community's needs and concerns," he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Haass held meetings with the Apprentice Boys, residents' groups, business leaders and other groups in Londonderry, a city which – in contrast to Belfast – has made progress on parading matters.
The Orange Order had invited Dr Haass to visit the city last month. However, it was not invited to yesterday's meetings.
Details of what was discussed are confidential, but Jim Brownlee of the Apprentice Boys said he found Dr Haass very receptive.
He said: "We outlined our views on the flag issue, parading and the past and he listened intently and was extremely courteous.
"He is an experienced analyst and will hopefully have found this visit a learning exercise."
Derry's business community has played a key role in discussions that for more than a decade have involved the community, church leaders, residents' groups and the loyal orders.
The approach has resulted in consensus and peaceful parades.
Local Chamber of Commerce president Philip Gilliland, who led a business delegation that met with Dr Haass, said: "Derry has got a very good story to tell and obviously there still remain issues, but I think we've come a lot further than most places.
"We feel a sense of ownership over sorting out the challenges and getting them right."