The leader of Northern Ireland’s largest nationalist party has urged all sides to make progress in a new bid to end the deadlock and reach agreement over flags, disputed parades and the past.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said a resolution was possible, with talks recommencing tomorrow and expected to continue into next week.
Former US diplomat Richard Haass is expected back in Belfast on Saturday to chair another round of discussions and has been in contact with the parties over the festive break.
Separate talks with representatives of the five main political parties are likely before full round-table negotiations on a fresh set of proposals.
Attempts failed in the run up to Christmas and Dr Haass and his vice-chairman Dr Meghan O’Sullivan returned home - but indicated they were prepared to come back to Belfast if they thought there was a realistic chance of agreement on at least some of the issues.
Mr Adams said: “There is a duty and responsibility on all the parties to these negotiations, despite the challenges, to find a way forward. With a fair wind the proposals under consideration can do this and I would appeal to everyone to overcome any difficulties which may remain.”
It is believed a fifth draft will be presented to the parties on Saturday and they will have until New Year’s Eve to come up with a settlement.
All sides believe there is a possibility they can agree on the way forward on parades and the past, but the question of flags is almost certain to remain unresolved for the foreseeable future.
Mr Adams, former West Belfast MP and now a member of the Irish Dail, added: “Many people will be disappointed that the all-party talks broke up without agreement for Christmas. Sinn Fein shares that disappointment.
“However, it is our view that progress was made and that agreement is possible when the talks recommence.”
Dr Haass and Harvard professor Dr O’Sullivan were brought to Northern Ireland in July by the First Minister Peter Robinson and the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with an aim of finding consensus on the displaying of national flags, the holding of parades and how to come to terms with the violence of the past.
Mr Haass and Ms O’Sullivan wrote a piece for the Belfast Telegraph and noted it was 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
“While substantial progress has been made, urgency must be the order of the day,” they said.
“The gains made over the past decade and a half can be lost and even if they are not, much more needs to happen before peace and a shared future are assured.
“An agreement from these negotiations would not solve all the remaining problems but it would dramatically increase the odds that Northern Ireland begins to live up to its potential.
“The opportunity should be seized while it still exists.”
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said the party accepted the challenge of seeking a fair and agreed outcome to the Haass talks and re-committed itself to this final phase of the process.
“In our opinion, the test of any proposal is whether it represents doing what’s right for Northern Ireland, and that will be measured in whether it is fair to all our citizens and advances society in a manner that does not disrespect the rights and needs of victims and survivors, nor disregards the rule of law,” he added.
“Dr Haass and Professor O’Sullivan come to us from a nation whose Declaration of Independence enshrined as unalienable rights ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’. These are values that should find expression in any outcomes this weekend, liberating all to pursue happiness in the expression of their culture or identity, be that British or Irish.
“As one of five parties to this process, we cannot guarantee agreement, but we can and do pledge to do all we can, as we did to bring about the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998.”