Haass urges parties to build on existing political consensus

Dr Richard Haass: Paul Faith/PA Wire
Dr Richard Haass: Paul Faith/PA Wire

Any basis for agreement on outstanding contentious issues must be built upon rather than squandered, Dr Richard Haass has said.

The former US diplomat, who chaired the recent talks initiative which ended without an agreed set of proposals, also welcomed First Minister Peter Robinson’s support for further efforts to narrow the differences between the parties involved.

Following his return to the US, Dr Haass posted a message on Twitter urging the parties to “act where consensus” exists.

Leaving the Province early on New Year’s Day, he tweeted: “Appreciate the many generous comments; thank you. truly believe the text provides a foundation for reconciliation & better future for NI.”

The DUP and Ulster Unionists have acknowledged progress has been made and have pledged to take the document back for consultation with their respective party executives.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said his party executive would meet on Monday when they will be briefed by the team who took part in the talks process. He said they hoped to “reach a decision on the way forward”, and added: “However, this was an initiative from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, and it falls to them to outline how they see this process moving forward.

“Another failure to create a truly shared future, rather than the current shared out future, cannot be tolerated.”

Alliance has said it was prepared to endorse the document’s proposals on the past, but rejected the suggested resolutions on flags and parades in their current form.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have signalled a willingness to back the proposals, with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams calling on unionists to be clear about whether they will endorse the proposals.

SDLP negotiator Alex Attwood described the position of the party leadership as a general endorsement of the talks outcome and expected this to be “wholeheartedly confirmed” at a party meeting on Thursday night.

He said: “The SDLP argued in the early hours of Tuesday that the five parties should take forward now the implementation of, and legislation for, Haass. In doing so, remaining issues could be decisively addressed.”

Ukip MLA David McNarry said: “From the moment Haass injected a fast-track for compromises, unionists were in trouble. The agenda was hi-jacked by republicans. Unionists at the talks were snared, yet they choose foolishly to remain at the table.”

Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson attended the Haass talks as part of the DUP delegation.

On Thursday he said: “There are things in it we don’t like and things in it we like, but the loyal orders will look at them and give their opinions in due course.”