As the Haass talks enter their final days, the DUP was last night fuming at the US diplomat’s draft agreement and privately hinting that its negotiators could even walk out of the talks.
Yesterday Dr Haass’s team gave the five Executive parties engaged in the talks his draft agreement on the issues under discussion — the legacy of the Troubles, parades and flags.
While none of the parties were entirely happy with what they read, DUP leader Peter Robinson — the only party leader not to go to the Stormont Hotel in person to read the document — said: “If I thought that was the final paper there would be steam coming out of my ears.
“But it is not the final paper and we still have work to do and we are up to doing that work.”
In private, the party used less diplomatic language.
One senior DUP source said that at yesterday’s meeting of the party officers some had said that the document was so far removed from reality that it “sounded as if he had been on the drink”.
But, amid brinkmanship from the parties as the talks enter their final stretch, TUV leader Jim Allister dismissed it as “posturing”.
And, in an obvious reference to the DUP, Martin McGuinness turned Peter Robinson’s words from earlier in the year back on him, saying that “the more excitable amongst us should cool their jets”.
Ulster Unionist negotiator Tom Elliott said that his party was also unhappy at what was on offer.
The former UUP leader said: “It has a long way to go but certainly we couldn’t buy into what’s there at the moment unless there were significant changes.”
Yesterday Dr Haass travelled to Downing Street to brief officials but today he will again meet the parties.
It is understood that the DUP talks team is going in to meet Dr Haass today with a mandate from its party officers to give him what one party figure described as “a very stark message”.
And it is believed that the DUP could be suggesting to the talks chairman that unless he was prepared to amend the document substantially the DUP involvement in the process could be “limited”.
Yesterday rumours emerged that last Friday Dr Haass had raised the possibility of flying the Irish Tricolour on public buildings in Northern Ireland during official visits by the Irish President or Taoiseach.
Participants were either sketchy about the details of the proposal or reluctant to discuss it, but that proposal — along with a suggestion that the Maze peace centre be resurrected — appears to now have been taken off the table.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, the First Minister told reporters: “Nobody is throwing the towel in at this stage. We are just saying that there is not a set of proposals that we can support, agree to or recommend.
“There are some things that are totally unacceptable and we would be outraged if we really believed that Dr Haass was serious in believing that that was going to be an outcome.
“I suspect that Dr Haass, like everybody else, is hearing views from a wide range of people and putting some of their comments within the papers to allow people to react. Well, he is going to get a reaction.”
Yesterday the SDLP appeared most satisfied, describing the draft agreement as having “strength and depth”.
The Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt referred to Margaret Thatcher’s famous ‘out, out, out’ speech — where the then Prime Minister rejected the New Ireland Forum’s proposals in 1984 — by describing the proposals as “more out, out, out and we’re a long way from in, in, in”.
He said it was no secret that the issue of flags “has emerged as the thorniest issue; that remains the case in terms of this first draft”.
He added: “All things are possible if people come at it honestly with a spirit of generosity towards each other, but also determined that the outcomes are fair. I will remain optimistic until it’s over.”