No deal is better than a bad deal - Peter Robinson

US diplomat Richard Haass with Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan.
US diplomat Richard Haass with Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan.

The five main parties in Northern Ireland were in talks to reach agreement between themselves – not to reach agreement with Dr Richard Haass, the First Minister has said.

Mr Robinson was speaking during a Stormont debate on a motion that called for the Assembly to begin the process of implementing the Haass/O’Sullivan document.

Proposed by Sinn Fein - it was eventually defeated by 52 votes to 49.

The DUP leader called the motion “divisive” and said: “It has always been my position that no deal is better than a bad deal.”

He said: “I don’t welcome the divisive nature of the motion itself. An agreement that brings Sinn Fein and the SDLP together is not have to bring the unionist parties along.”

Months of negotiations, chaired by US diplomat Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, ended on New Year’s Eve without agreement. However, the leaders of the five main parties are due to begin their own discussions later this week.

Highlighting some of the proposals on parading that were particularly unpalatable to unionists, Mr Robinson said the idea of using potential cost to public services, including policing, as a major factor when considering parade applications was unhelpful.

“Cost incentivises those who wish to disrupt parades,” he said.

His party colleague Jonathan Bell was equally scathing about aspects of the Haass document he claimed would focus 90 per cent of investigations on the British state, despite the fact it caused only 10 per cent of Troubles’ deaths.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt echoed the comments of Mr Bell.

He said: “What we want to see is that spotlight spread and shone on the actions of the IRA, the INLA, the UVF” and the other terrorist groupings.

Jim Allister of the TUV said the proposals were unacceptable as they equate “victim with victim maker” and added: “What is in this document for unionists?”

Speaking ahead of last night’s debate, NI21 deputy leader John McCallister said a resolution to the outstanding issues had to be found before the European election campaign commences in March 2014.

“It is now time for the five parties of the Executive to act like the coalition government which they are and come to agreement quickly,” he said.

Steven Agnew of the Green Party said the Haass document was more of a small step forward than a game changer.

“In certain respects it does not go far enough,” Mr Agnew added.