Belfast Telegraph

N Ireland approach 'semi-detached'

The Government has adopted a semi-detached approach to tackling problems in Northern Ireland, a senior Labour MP has claimed.

Shadow secretary of state Vernon Coaker told his party conference in Brighton there were still major issues to be resolved if the region was to reap the full benefits of peace.

He said: "I'm worried that the Government isn't paying proper attention to what's happening in Northern Ireland.

"I'm worried that David Cameron and Theresa Villiers don't understand what needs to happen to resolve some of these critical issues.

"And I'm worried that, with their semi-detached approach, they are taking what we have for granted.

"They need to understand the job is not finished."

The comments come just days after Dr Richard Haass left Belfast following a week of meetings with political, church and business leaders aimed at finding consensus on three of the most contentious issues outstanding from the peace process.

The former US diplomat and US foreign affairs expert Dr Megahn O'Sullivan were appointed to lead all-party talks on flags, parades and the past and have until Christmas to provide recommendations on a shared future.

The Haass team will return to Northern Ireland next month and will hold further talks in London and Dublin in November.

Mr Coaker added: "I'm disappointed with this UK Government's approach. The Secretary of State hasn't fully engaged with the talks. And I'm even more surprised that despite this she still wants the final say on what the outcome should be."

Northern Ireland has endured one of the most turbulent years since the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998.

Tensions have been high since a decision to limit the flying of the Union flag over Belfast City Hall last December sparked widespread protests by loyalists which spilled over into rioting in some parts of the region.

The summer months were also marred by scenes of violence related to parading disputes.

Republicans were criticised for holding an IRA commemoration parade through the Co Tyrone town of Castlederg last month despite appeals to call it off from victims' families.

As a result of the tension on the streets, relations have become strained between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein who share power at Stormont.

Mr Coaker challenged unionists and nationalists to show political leadership.

He said: "We need to find a comprehensive process to deal with the past. It's a big ask. But we must address the legacy of what happened over four decades of terrible, painful, awful violence. Those who suffered, the victims and survivors, deserve and expect no less.

"We can't get to the shared future we want all to build, without addressing the past that we all want to leave behind."

Meanwhile, a senior Sinn Fein delegation including MLAs Alex Maskey, Francie Molloy and MP Conor Murphy travelled to Brighton to attend the conference at the weekend.

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