Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Northern Ireland executive leaders meet but make no progress on Haass

The five Executive party leaders have met for the first time in more than two months – although they still appear no closer to agreement on how to deal with Northern Ireland's most divisive issues
The five Executive party leaders have met for the first time in more than two months – although they still appear no closer to agreement on how to deal with Northern Ireland's most divisive issues

The five Executive party leaders have met for the first time in more than two months – although they still appear no closer to agreement on how to deal with Northern Ireland's most divisive issues.

But after a two-hour meeting in Parliament Buildings yesterday broke up, one SDLP source said: "It's not all negative."

The meeting came less than a week after Prime Minister David Cameron, in an article in the Belfast Telegraph, urged the parties to sieze the opportunity and told them "the prize is great".

One source said it was up to the First and Deputy First Ministers to decide how the discussions were to be conducted. They were initiated in the aftermath of the collapsed negotiations chaired by American diplomat Dr Richard Haass.

The DUP and UUP are understood to want the three core issues – flags, parades and dealing with the past – to be 'decoupled', to see if progress can be made in any areas.

But Sinn Fein has argued the last proposals drawn up by Dr Haass and his co-chair Professor Meghan O'Sullivan are a package and cannot be separated.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt warned the current format of the talks was "going no-where".

"I believe we collectively owe it to the people, and to Northern Ireland's reputation on the international stage, to do all we can to ensure a peaceful and respectful summer," he said.

"On that basis, I suggested we decoupled the three strands and focused exclusively on agreement on parades and associated protests."

He said he was disappointed other parties were unwilling to agree to separate the three strands and focus now on parades.

"This would open the opportunity for a quick win, valuable in its own right and also a momentum-builder for the future," the UUP leader added.

BACKGROUND

Talks on flags, parades and dealing with the past collapsed on New Years Eve without agreement. US diplomats Dr Richard Haass and Professor Meghan O'Sullivan returned home after publishing a seventh draft of proposals on flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles. The five main Stormont parties initiated a series of weekly meetings which failed to make progress, with UUP leader Mike Nesbitt finally pulling out. The meetings then went into abeyance during the run-up to the elections.

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