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Richard Haass blames unionist leadership for collapse of his talks

By Liam Clarke

Richard Haass has placed the lion's share of blame for the failure of the talks he chaired on unionist parties backed by the British Government.

Last winter the former US diplomat led all-party discussions in search of a way forward on flags, parading and the past.

He told Radio Ulster's Talkback programme that when dealing with issues of cultural identity "it takes extraordinary leadership to overcome them, and we simply didn't have enough of it in Northern Ireland during my period".

When interviewer William Crawley asked him who had particularly lacked leadership, he was blunt.

"I thought, more than anything, it was lacking on the unionist side, and that is not surprising because there was a feeling that change would disadvantage them. I think the republicans and nationalists were more willing to entertain the possibility of change but the two leading unionist parties were not," he stated.

In an earlier comment, Dr Haass brought the British Government into the circle of blame and compared Northern Ireland to conflict resolution in South Africa.

There peace was concluded between the once-illegal African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela, and the National Party of FW de Klerk, which administered the old apartheid regime. Dr Haass said the country had needed Mr de Klerk "who understood that the future of his country meant them giving up advantaged positions".

"Alas, we didn't quite have that in Northern Ireland when I was involved and we will only succeed there when we do," he remarked.

Dr Haass added that he hoped the British Government would be more flexible this time.

"Those who held the preponderance of power - and essentially that would be more the unionists backed by the British Government - needed to be willing to meet others at least halfway, and as of last December they were not, but again I would hope that a day will come when they will see it not only in their collective interest but also in their more narrow interests."

Dr Haass's comments came as the parties here and the British, Irish and American governments attempt to boost a partial all-party agreement reached last week. It produced a budget, agreed on the implementation of welfare reform, secured a £2bn commitment from Britain and started work on dealing with the past.

Yesterday Sinn Fein's ard chomhairle, which had previously opposed welfare reform and cuts, ratified the document.

"The ard chomhairle recognised that progress has been made in defending the most vulnerable against the Tory welfare and budget cuts," Gerry Adams said.

He stressed that his party had further demands. "The British Government refused to implement a number of outstanding commitments and the Irish Government representatives complied with this. Sinn Fein is committed to actively campaigning for the two governments to honour and deliver on their obligations."

Factfile

On December 31, 2013, the Haass talks resulted in a paper on flags, parading and the past, which was largely accepted by nationalists. Further talks within the past few weeks produced some agreement on finance but must be ratified in the Assembly next month.

Belfast Telegraph

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