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Cameron urges ‘give and take’ in Haass talks

Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

The Prime Minister has urged political negotiators in Northern Ireland to show some “give and take” as the deadline looms for agreement on contentious parades, flags and dealing with the troubled past.

Work intensified this week on a new set of proposals aimed at resolving disputes between the five main parties in the power-sharing administration at Stormont after a previous draft was branded unacceptable by unionists.

Former US diplomat Richard Haass is chairing talks in Belfast aimed at resolving issues left outstanding from the peace process and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which largely ended paramilitary violence. His target for a deal is Friday.

David Cameron said: “We should let him do his work and judge his work on the results that he produces.

“I hope that everyone will try to look at this process with some give and take to try and bring communities together.”

Mr Cameron said Mr Haass was an incredibly impressive individual carrying out a “very important and extremely difficult task”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, in Dublin for meetings, said a proposal by Northern Ireland’s attorney general John Larkin QC to end prosecutions in Troubles-related murders could be a possibility.

She said measures of granting limited immunity from legal proceedings had been implemented before - like during the inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

“It all depends on what is proposed,” Ms Villiers said.

“But that criteria about ensuring that how the result is consistent with rule of law certainly could be reconciled with certain forms of immunity.”

The granting of limited immunity to terrorists who co-operate with inquiries is thought to be among proposals tabled by Dr Haass.

The suggestion was made earlier this year by Northern Ireland attorney general John Larkin.

Ms Villiers was in Dublin for a meeting with Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Neither would pre-empt the likely contents of the Haass recommendations, insisting the most important thing is the outcome and whether agreement can be reached by Northern Ireland’s five main political parties.

Ms Villiers said it would be for the Northern Ireland Executive to fund his proposals, which included the creation of an all-encompassing investigative body to inquire into Troubles-related killings.

She said the block grant given to Northern Ireland from the UK government to fund public services was already “very substantial”.

One of Dr Haass’s more contentious draft recommendations is thought to be a proposal for the Irish Tricolour flag to fly on certain days alongside the Union flag at official buildings like Stormont but the Northern Ireland Secretary declined to comment on specifics.

Ms Villiers added: “Clearly the discussions on flags, that is one of the most difficult issues to resolve and I would urge all the political parties to continue to strive to try and find accommodation and try and find a way forward.

“Because these issues around flags do resonate with many people of Northern Ireland and obviously when things go wrong it can lead to disruption and demonstrations.

“And that is something that is in everyone’s interest to try to resolve and find a solution, which can command support across the community.”

The Tanaiste said if there were easy solutions, they would have been found a long time ago but added Dr Haass had the support of the British and Irish Governments.

The former US envoy to Northern Ireland is due to make recommendations to Stormont’s power-sharing ministerial Executive.

He has been engaged in talks spanning Belfast, London and Dublin over recent months.

The Democratic Unionists are Northern Ireland’s largest party and leader and First Minister Peter Robinson recently said steam would be coming out of his ears if he thought the draft Haass proposals represented the final recommendations to emerge from intensive discussions.

Senior Democratic Unionist and East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said: “Dr Haass and his team have received a clear message that the DUP will not be acquiescing in any agreement which dilutes our British identity.

“The initial proposals brought forward by the Haass team were unacceptable and a stark message has been delivered to him.”

The Executive is resolute that an upsurge in recent dissident republican violence will not shake it but has made few key decisions in recent months following a loyalist summer marching season pockmarked by violence.

Some unionists claim senior Sinn Fein MLAs have glorified the past deeds of the IRA during commemorations and mistrust republicans’ promises to tell the truth about conflict killings.

Loyalists have fought sporadic but fierce pitched battles with police over truncated marches and during protests against the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall a year ago.

 

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