Belfast Telegraph

Richard Haass talks: Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson plays down hopes of deal by Christmas

By Adrian Rutherford

Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has played down the prospect of a deal being reached by Christmas on issues surrounding parades, flags and the past.

The First Minister said that while he believed talks chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass were capable of making significant progress, the December deadline for agreement would be difficult to meet.

His comments came as the second day of negotiations involving the five main parties resumed in Belfast.

Yesterday, Dr Haass met with representatives from the DUP, Ulster Unionists, Alliance Party and the Royal Black Institution. Dr Haass is due to meet all five Executive parties for plenary talks tomorrow.

A further round of talks will be held next month with more substantive negotiations in November ahead of the December deadline for recommendations on the shared future.

However, speaking after the DUP's meeting with Dr Haass, Mr Robinson warned of difficult months ahead.

"Do I believe if we will be able to have all of these issues cut and dried and resolved by Christmas? No I don't," he said.

"Do I believe that there can be progress on each of them and some more than others? Yes I do."

He added: "November and December will be the tough months when we have to get down to the real work."

Flanked by Orange Order chaplain Reverend Mervyn Gibson, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson and junior minister Jonathan Bell, Mr Robinson said they were "determined to contribute in a positive manner", but noted they had their own "distinct angle of vision" on the three contentious issues.

"We believe that there are certain freedoms that need to be enshrined and protected," he added.

"One of those clearly is the ability for people to assemble and to parade and we have obviously indicated how important that is to our community – that it is part of the unionist, loyalist, Protestant culture.

"We have touched on the issue of flags and made it very clear that for us a shared future is not a neutral environment – it is a shared future within the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland constitutionally is part of the United Kingdom, the Union flag is the flag of our country.

"We have dealt with the issues of the past and how difficult it would be to get a common narrative. But we have indicated some areas where we think progress could be made."

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said the discussions between Dr Haass and his party were "constructive".

"We are committed to honouring the confidentiality of the process," he said. "What I can say is that it was a very useful session based on our written submission."

Alliance MP Naomi Long said that if the issues had not been resolved by December, Dr Haass should make a judgment call on what to do. "The idea that this has no urgency attached is simply inconceivable after the last number of months that we have had," said the East Belfast MP.

Dr Haass also met senior members of the Royal Black Institution, and was presented with an outline discussion paper on parading, flags and legacy.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph