Debate motions highlight splits on Haass

Dr Richard Haass pictured arriving at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast during talks last month.
Dr Richard Haass pictured arriving at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast during talks last month.

Divisions between parties over the way forward on the Haass proposals were further evidenced yesterday with the emergence of a four-way split in relation to an Assembly motion to be debated on Monday.

Former US envoy Dr Richard Haass chaired talks between the five Executive parties to find consensus on dealing with the past, flags and parades. However, the talks broke up on New Year’s Eve with a range of proposals which did not have the full support of all parties.

The Sinn Fein motion to be debated on Monday urges the immediate implementation of all proposals, while the proposed UUP and DUP amendments propose further talks, with the Alliance party urging implementation of proposals on the past, with further talks on flags and parades.

The Sinn Fein motion, to be debated under private members’ business, urges the Assembly to acknowledge that “the published Haass/O’Sullivan proposals represent a significant opportunity for political parties to show positive leadership” and calls on the Executive “to begin putting in place the foundations for implementation of the proposals; and further calls on all parties to support their successful implementation”.

The motion was in the names of Sinn Fein MLAs Jennifer McCann, Gerry Kelly and Caitriona Ruane.

However, the first proposed amendment, from UUP MLAs Tom Elliott, Mike Nesbitt and Danny Kennedy, urges setting aside implementation and “calls on the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to agree proposals for a practical and positive way forward on the three issues of contention”.

Likewise, a second proposed amendment, from DUP MLAs Peter Robinson, Jonathan Bell, Arlene Foster and Gregory Campell, urges setting aside immediate implementation, and instead welcomes “the decision of the party leaders to meet on January 14 to consider the next steps” in the process.

A third proposed amendment by Alliance MLAs Chris Lyttle, David Ford, Stephen Farry and Stephen Dickson, urges a slightly different approach, with “urgent steps to implement the provisions relating to dealing with the past and to develop a time-limited, independently-chaired mechanism to reach agreement between the parties on outstanding issues on parades and flags”.

Party leaders are due to meet on Tuesday to discuss the Haass proposals. However with the DUP and UUP expressing concern about elements of the proposals, it is not clear what impact pending elections may have on talks.

Former US diplomat Richard Haass has called on Stormont’s parties to set out a clear timetable for striking an as-yet elusive deal.

Dr Haass expressed disappointment that all five Executive parties had failed to reach consensus on a draft agreement produced at the end of four months of negotiations.

And he insisted the essence of compromise meant no party could ever get everything it wanted.

The process chairman’s statement came as leaders of Northern Ireland’s four main churches united to encourage politicians to sustain talks.

Sinn Fein slams Dublin and London response

Sinn Fein yesterday accused the British and Republic of Ireland governments of what it claimed was “half-hearted” support for the Haass proposals.

Gerry Adams called on the governments to “unambiguously endorse the Haass proposals” and to press unionist parties to respond “positively”.

He also accused unionist leaders of “ignoring the clear desire by the vast majority of citizens who want to see agreement on these outstanding issues”.

Mr Adams said the response from the British and Republic of Ireland governments “was half-hearted, detached and ambiguous”.

Also yesterday, Alliance deputy leader, Naomi Long MP, called on the DUP to clarify whether comments by Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley Jr in the House of Commons on Wednesday represent the party’s position.

She said: “On Tuesday, Peter Robinson said the Haass proposals needed work, but appeared to give them a qualified welcome; however, in the House of Commons one day later, in response to a statement by the Secretary of State, Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley indicated that the DUP had given the proposals an unqualified rejection. The DUP must now make clear which is the case and who is speaking for their party.”

In a statement from the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson yesterday, he said: ‘The DUP engaged positively in the Haass process and we still remain committed to reaching a consensus on these difficult issues”, while the UUP’s Reg Empey rounded on the Alliance Party, accusing them of having exhibited an “obsession” with flags at the talks, and of supporting “completely unworkable proposals”.