Belfast Telegraph

Haass talks: Parties have let Northern Ireland down, says O'Sullivan

Leaders' refusal to compromise collapsed deal: O'Sullivan

BY STEVEN ALEXANDER

The Harvard professor who co-chaired political talks aimed at resolving Northern Ireland's most divisive issues has said people have been let down by the inability of political leaders here to make compromises.

Dr Meghan O'Sullivan also said that she does not believe she will return for further talks.

But the former White House adviser, who vice-chaired the negotiations on flags, parades and dealing with the past alongside former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, added: "I don't have any regrets."

The talks initiated by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness ended on New Year's Eve after six months without a deal being sealed. Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from New York, Dr O'Sullivan said: "We really got the feeling of pretty intense disappointment on the part of the public that not only did the talks not lead to greater agreement, but real disappointment about the ability of leaders to come forward and make compromises, and justify those compromises to their constituencies."

Dr O'Sullivan said she and Dr Haass had worked hard to accommodate the basic needs of all the political parties.

"Of course each party would have had tough questions to answer from their own constituents, but as a whole there was enough for each party, as well as for Northern Ireland," she said.

"I think that's at the root of our disappointment."

Dr Haass last night called on the UUP, DUP and Alliance – who rejected the package – to justify their decisions.

"I would prefer for them to speak and to justify or explain their choices."

Since the end of the talks, the DUP and Sinn Fein have disagreed over the role of a proposed working group. Sinn Fein believes it should implement the final proposals, while the DUP sees it as a chance to re-negotiate elements of the package. Professsor O'Sullivan said it was now up to the parties how to proceed.

"I don't know to what extent people have been intimating that there's a piece there that is actually ripe for implementation, that everyone agrees on – but if that is the case, Richard and I are not aware of it," she said.

She urged the parties to commit to a timeframe when they meet next week to discuss the proposals, and to convince the public that their working group wouldn't become a "talking shop that goes on forever".

She added: "We don't think that it's time for a post-mortem. This is not dead in the water – there's still a lot of potential life left in the agreement."

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