Belfast Telegraph

Richard Haass may return for further talks with Northern Ireland parties

By Liam Clarke

Speculation is growing that Richard Haass, the former US envoy, will be back to restart talks on dealing with the most divisive issues facing Northern Ireland.

The Republic's Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore publicly floated the idea of a new Irish Government-led initiative on Monday after last year's talks on flags, parades and dealing with the past ended in disarray.

It was enthusiastically taken up by the SDLP's Alex Attwood, and Sinn Fein has also urged both the British and Irish administrations to support a new push for agreement.

Mr Gilmore spoke to Dr Haass again yesterday, and a meeting between the two men has been suggested for May 23 in Dublin. The US Government publicly backed the Haass initiative in March and urged the parties here to thrash out a deal.

Last night Jeffrey Donaldson, who was part of the DUP negotiating team during the last Haass talks, showed no enthusiasm for a resumption. He said talks were already going on between the leaders of the Executive parties – apart from the UUP – and he was hopeful these could make progress.

"We are happy to continue with the current format and we will engage with the other political parties. Of course, we will speak to the governments as well, but I am not aware of an arrangement to bring Richard Haass," he said.

Asked if it would be wise to bring Dr Haass back, he said: "You would have to change the way things were done. Frankly, the last time, it just didn't work out."

With the UUP completely rejecting the final Haass proposals, there would clearly need to be a considerable selling job to secure DUP support.

Mr Gilmore floated the idea of new talks, saying that there was "a window of opportunity" between the European and local government elections on May 22 and the start of the main marching season in June.

He revealed that he had already discussed his ideas with Dr Haass, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London.

Mr Gilmore said while the Haass talks had broken down without agreement on New Year's Eve, the process had not failed.

He said he believed the need for an agreement had been given added urgency by the political fallout following the arrest of Gerry Adams.

The British Government has been less proactive, but Ms Villiers said last week that if the Haass proposals were agreed, the UK Government would assist their implementation.

Mr Attwood, the SDLP's European election candidate and a negotiator in the last Haass talks, strongly backed Mr Gilmore.

"The resolutions of issues in Northern Ireland require the influence and involvement of people outside of Northern Ireland," he said.

Belfast Telegraph


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