Belfast Telegraph

Haass talks: Proposals are dead in the water until after elections


No movement on the proposals by the American diplomat Richard Haass on disputes in Northern Ireland is expected until after key elections in May, according to well-placed political sources.

Unionists were said to be concerned that any perceived climbdown over contentious Orange parades issues could damage their core support in the forthcoming 'super councils' elections on May 22. The elections are for 11 new councils replacing the old 26 local government areas.

There have already been squabbles – particularly over the newly enlarged Belfast City council area, which could for the first time have a nationalist majority.

Unionist sources indicated that the proposals put forward by Dr Haass as a formula to deal with the legacy of the past and parade issues in Northern Ireland look likely to be rejected by the two main unionist parties, despite deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness urging unionists to support the proposals.

But senior figures in both the DUP and UUP indicated that they would have difficulties.

The UUP leader Mike Nesbitt faces major opposition from within his own party.

More opponents were expected to make their opposition known at the party's 100-strong meeting tonight.

The Reverend Mervyn Gibson has indicated that the proposals on parades could cause the Orange Order more problems than the current legislation.

Meanwhile, a woman whose brother was murdered by alleged members of the IRA seven years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement has criticised the draft document, issued in the wake of the breakdown of the Haass all-party talks, for ignoring victims of violence after 1998.

"I'm astounded at the failure of the parties to acknowledge the victims created after the Good Friday Agreement," said Catherine McCartney, whose brother Robert was stabbed to death outside Magennis's bar in Belfast in 2005.

She has now signed her name to a letter sent to every party in Northern Ireland except Sinn Fein, asking them to reject the 1998 cut-off date and to "publicly stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who would be effectively excluded, insulted and ignored by the Haass Document".

Mr McCartney is one of more than 100 people who have been murdered by paramiltaries since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Others include Sunday World reporter Martin O'Hagan, shot in 2001 for exposing loyalist drug dealing.

"The proposals fail to explain the rationale for the cut-off date," Ms McCartney said. "Any attempt to justify it on the grounds that it was when the conflict legally ended is weak and an insult to those who continued to suffer as a consequence of the reality of continuing violence."

Belfast Telegraph


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