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How Richard Haass aims to seal deal in six days


Dr Richard Haass pictured with with Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast

Dr Richard Haass pictured with with Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Dr Richard Haass pictured with with Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast

The Richard Haass road map aimed at achieving a breakthrough deal on flags, parades and the past is today revealed by the Belfast Telegraph.

The deadline set – Thursday, December 19 – means the tightest of deadlines, giving the Stormont Executive parties just six days to make up their minds.

On Monday the DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance will get to read a draft document prepared by the US team.

It will be made available to them at a Belfast hotel – and they will be asked to read it there. They will not be allowed to take the papers away.

It is a move by Dr Haass aimed at ensuring the confidentiality of the talks and reducing the potential for further leaks.

Earlier this week the US diplomat said he did not want to reveal his negotiating tactics and added there would be times when he would want to keep journalists in the dark.

But details of the day-to-day talks diary aimed at getting agreements by that December 19 deadline can now be revealed.

Today and tomorrow he will complete what will add up to some 30 hours of negotiations with the Executive parties, packed within this week.

It will mean, by teatime tomorrow, he will have met each of parties three times, moving them from discussions on parades, to flags and then the past.

On Monday Dr Haass and talks vice chair Dr Meghan O'Sullivan are in London for talks with the Government.

Back in Belfast, the parties will start reading the draft document. Then on Tuesday they will each meet the Haass/O'Sullivan team again.

The plan is to then move to round table and hothouse discussions spread across Wednesday and Thursday, December 18-19.

And Thursday is now being viewed as the talks D-day, when Dr Haass hopes the deal can be done.

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph reported on discussions around a new two-tier system to rule on parades. But sources have now revealed a potential third tier to the new model. It would break down into dialogue/mediation, adjudication and appeal.

There are continuing discussions about into which of those tiers an independent judicial figure or figures would fit – whether it should be adjudication or appeal. Putting any such model together will take time, and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers is expected to announce the membership of a newly-appointed Parades Commission soon.

The question of a new Northern Ireland flag continues to be discussed within the talks and, on the past, the idea of some limited immunity scheme seems to be gaining traction.

Any Haass agreement – if one is achieved – will not settle every detail linked to the three issues under discussion.

But Haass has set the target at "meaningful progress" – making clear this is not "an all or nothing" negotiation.

The question now is whether the thoughts and language he and Dr O'Sullivan bring forward in writing on Monday can win agreement across the parties. The US team have said their goal is a pre-Christmas agreement. There is a contingency for possible discussions at the end of month – but the real deadline for a deal is set for next Thursday.

Belfast Telegraph