Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

Mike Nesbitt's alternative plans to Haass branded 'a jumble'

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt is set to take his party's alternative proposals for dealing with flags, parading and the past outside the political arena and consult directly with victims' organisations, community groups and business bodies.

All four of the Executive parties rejected Mr Nesbitt's proposals shortly after he issued them.

Alex Attwood of the SDLP called them "a jumble", while Stephen Moutray of the DUP said Mr Nesbitt was at "sixes and sevens".

Sinn Fein dismissed them as "a list of unionist demands" which "entirely ignores the concerns and positions of nationalists and republicans".

Alliance accused Mr Nesbitt of "a retreat into the trenches".

But Mr Nesbitt made light of the criticism and said he had raised a vital debate. "We have been heartened by the response and hope it will help create discussions about more realistic solutions to deal with the issues that continue to affect Northern Ireland society," the UUP leader said.

Nationalists were irked by parts of the 17-page UUP paper which advocated an Orange march down Garvaghy Road to break the logjam, and the Union flag to fly every day in Belfast and on designated days as a minimum elsewhere. It also called for an end to supergrass trials, which have only been used against loyalists in recent years.

Other UUP proposals include:

  • A pension for those severely injured in the Troubles. Mr Nesbitt leaves it a moot point whether this would include people with paramilitary associations.
  • A push to improve the mental health and well-being of our citizens in view of the high levels of personal and communal trauma following the conflict.
  • Victims and survivors of the Troubles being exempt from reassessment for benefits under welfare reform. This already applies to victims of terrorist attacks in Britain.
  • A Historical Clarification Group which would produce an objective timeline of the Troubles.
  • Statements from churches, political parties and other groups acknowledging any acts or omissions which may have contributed to the Troubles.
  • A reconciliation initiative "to educate the children of this island about the common service and sacrifice of their forefathers" during the First World War.
  • Co-operation and co-ordination with victims and survivors of the Troubles based in Britain. These would include former soldiers and their relatives as well as people affected by republican bombings in Britain.
  • The early completion of a review of Troubles-related murders by the Historical Enquiries Team instead of setting up a new body, as suggested in the Haass proposals.

The DUP complained that the proposals called for the Union flag to be flown on designated days at a minimum and more often where there was agreement, but questioned whether the UUP really backed the increases.

Mr Moutray claimed that in Craigavon council, where a designated days policy applies, the UUP voted against DUP proposals to review the situation with a view to increasing flag-flying.

The DUP is in negotiations over the Haass proposals with nationalists and Alliance. This week First Minister Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, is in Washington for St Patrick's Day.

STORY SO FAR

Talks chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass on flags, parading and the past broke up without agreement at the end of last year. All five Executive parties took part. Shortly before talks ended Mike Nesbitt said agreement was likely, saying they were "80 to 90% over the line". But since then he has rejected the Haass model. Last month he pulled out of party leaders' talks on the issue and on Sunday he issued his own party's alternative proposals.

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