Sinn Fein accused of 'bad faith' over publishing paper on its submissions to envoy Richard Haass
Sinn Fein yesterday declared its negotiating hand on flags, parades and the past as Richard Haass signalled a gear shift in critical all-party talks.
The US team called in to chair negotiations on the unfinished business of the peace process stressed its December deadline.
"It will be our objective to finalise this before Christmas," Dr Haass said – adding if the initiative was to be successful it would "need all hands on deck".
This week he and talks vice chair Meghan O'Sullivan are to meet twice with the five Executive parties before a planned round table session on Friday.
They are also to brief the First and Deputy First Ministers.
In a surprise and controversial move yesterday, Sinn Fein published its submissions to the Haass team.
On contentious marches, the party wants to strengthen the role of the Parades Commission.
And it argues the flying of flags on public buildings should be on the basis of equality or neutrality.
"This can translate into both national flags on display or no flags at all to be flown," its document states.
On the issue of the past, the party repeated its call for "an effective Independent, International Truth Recovery Mechanism".
"The key issue is the legacy issue," Gerry Kelly said.
Commenting on Sinn Fein's decision to publish its papers, Ulster Unionist negotiator Tom Elliott accused republicans of "an act of bad faith".
Dr Haass had asked for confidentiality throughout the process.
The Ulster Unionists were the first of the Executive parties to meet the Haass team yesterday.
"We have given them some food for thought," Mr Elliott said afterwards, including some "bottom lines".
Asked about Sinn Fein's position on flags, he responded: "There's one flag of this nation."
The SDLP was the second party in. Party negotiator Alex Attwood described the past as "the biggest issue and challenge of this initiative".
The discussions this week are the build-up to a fortnight of hothouse negotiations next month with the target of an agreement before Christmas.
Dr Haass still thinks that is possible, and yesterday Sinn Fein also sounded optimistic.
"It is fairly obvious that we are now entering a crucial phase of this process," Mr Kelly said.
"I am optimistic that progress can be made in the weeks before the Christmas deadline if parties approach the process with the necessary political will and with the same attitude of resolving difficult issues which has in the past delivered agreement," he said.
But there are proposals in the Sinn Fein papers relating to parades and flags that will not win unionist support.
That became obvious within hours of the documents being published yesterday.
But one unionist suggested the Sinn Fein submissions were setting out "top" rather than "bottom" lines.