As US diplomat Richard Haass flies into Belfast this morning to begin the most significant political talks since the devolution of policing and justice in 2010, unionism finds itself split on the initiative.
Dr Haass will chair negotiations which will attempt to strike a deal on parades, flags and the legacy of the Troubles.
The DUP and UUP have pledged to positively engage with the talks — though the UUP has sounded the more sceptical of the two — but the TUV and UKIP have warned against what is taking place.
And, as revealed in Saturday’s News Letter, the Orange Order will not allow the talks to simply dust down the last DUP-Sinn Fein deal on parading which was rejected by the Order in 2010.
Yesterday the DUP Finance Minister Simon Hamilton and Sinn Fein Education Minister John O’Dowd appeared together on the BBC’s Sunday Politics. Both men said their parties would work on the issues which divide them, despite the recent fall-out from the DUP’s abandonment of the Maze peace centre.
Mr Hamilton said that “working with Sinn Fein itself is not something we want to do naturally” but added: “We are in a forced coalition where we have to work together.
“But just because we have those differences of opinion — be it on the past, on flags, on emblems, on how we deal with victims — doesn’t mean that we can’t do our best to work together to try to resolve what we can resolve.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: “The UUP will not allow the re-writing of history, but nor will we allow history to hamper us...I am of a generation born just in time to live through, or die in, our Troubles. It is no longer enough to tell my son’s generation that we have come a long way. We have a duty to ensure he does not have to live with the legacy.”
UKIP MLA David McNarry dismissed the Haass talks as an irrelevance. He said: “The people have little or no interest in the Haass process this autumn. Haass is hardly on the people’s radar at all. It is a private obsession for the folks on the hill. In fact, it is yet more evidence, if any were needed, of the disconnect between Stormont and the people it governs.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said that his party — which is not part of the talks — would ensure there was no “backsliding” on issues such as the Maze peace centre. He added: “On parading and dealing with the past, Haass must not be allowed to become a conduit for reheating either the rejected Sinn Fein/DUP parading proposals or the Eames-Bradley report. Nor, is there room for a unionist community, which has been required to give at every turn, to make further concessions in some trade off to promote ‘the process’.”
NI21 leader Basil McCrea said a deal on flags was crucial and published a paper on the issue. Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said that the talks would work “if there is meaningful engagement from all parties”.