Haass says end-of-year talks deadline 'do-able'

Richard Haass said the issues would be explored in greater detail in the latest phase of talks

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The end-of-year deadline for political talks to resolve some of the most divisive issues in Northern Ireland is "do-able and desirable", according to US diplomat Richard Haass.

Dr Haass has returned to Belfast for another round of talks about flags, parading and the Troubles' legacy.

"It will be our objective to finalise this before Christmas," he said.

He said that would give everyone in Northern Ireland "even more reason than usual to celebrate the holidays".

"If this process gets to where we would like it to get, I really do think it would create a better present and better future for people across the board who live here," he said.

'New and improved reality'

Dr Haass began chairing the talks in September, and he said this phase of the discussions would involve exploring the issues in greater detail.

Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly said legacy was a huge issue in the talks

The discussions, to include other groups as well as political parties, will continue throughout this week.

Later, all the parties will be brought together for round-table talks.

"All that we are doing this week is a prelude to the talks that we plan to hold in December when we return," Dr Haass told a news conference.

"It will be our intention to reach agreement among the five parties on a common approach to all three issues and on how to translate that agreement into a new and improved reality."

Dr Haass said they had received more than 500 submissions from interested groups and individuals in response to a public consultation.

Earlier, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said that as the Haass talks move to the "nitty gritty" stage, the key issue to be dealt with was the "huge issue" of the past.

Speaking as Sinn Féin published its submissions to the talks, Mr Kelly said the party was going in with "an open mind".

However, the North Belfast MLA rejected the idea that the deadline for the process should be extended beyond December.

Dr Haass served as US envoy to Northern Ireland from 2001 to 2003. He was chosen to chair the discussions by the first and deputy first ministers.

As well as meeting politicians, he encouraged community groups and smaller parties to contribute their ideas.

Ahead of the talks, CBI Northern Ireland chairman Ian Coulter said the build-up to the latest stage had been encouraging.

Mr Coulter praised the attendance of Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Belfast Máirtín Ó Muilleoir at a city hall remembrance service, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt's call for no further loyalist flag protests and DUP leader Peter Robinson's speech on the GAA's contribution to the peace process.

"The CBI applauds these steps, and others, and we hope wider society will support these talks and provide our political leaders with both encouragement and space for progress to be achieved, and for accommodation to be reached," he said.

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