Northern Ireland: Richard Haass talks end without deal

Dr Richard Haass says "significant progress" has been made

Months of talks to resolve some of the most divisive issues that have hampered the Northern Ireland peace process have broken up without agreement.

Northern Ireland's five main parties met through the night in a final effort to settle differences over parades, flags and the legacy of the Troubles.

Former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, who chaired the talks, said a final agreement was "not there" but there had been "significant progress".

He called it a "basis" for change.

'Strong endorsement'

The BBC's Andy Martin in Belfast said that although a positive spin had been emphasised by all those involved in the talks, the current proposals would need significant modification to be collectively adopted by all five main parties. "This process is not dead, but it is far from finished," he said.

Meghan O'Sullivan and Richard Haass Meghan O'Sullivan and Richard Haass chaired a series of round-table talks

The proposed deal won broad support from Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party, but others including the unionist DUP, said unresolved issues over parades and flags meant more work was needed before consensus could be reached.

Dr Haass said: "All the parties support significant parts of the agreement. At the same time, all have some concerns."

Although he is flying home without a deal, Richard Haass believes his efforts haven't all been in vain.

The former US diplomat reckons he has made significant progress, especially on potential new institutions to deal with Northern Ireland's troubled past.

Dr Haass hopes the Stormont parties can move these matters forward in the months ahead.

That said, the Stormont politicians don't have a great track record in resolving tough issues without outside assistance.

So there's good reason for scepticism about their ability to deliver progress now Dr Haass and his talks co-chair Professor Meghan O'Sullivan have declared their involvement in these negotiations over.

"We very much hope that the parties reflect on this, discuss it with their leadership and then come back with a strong endorsement. Over the next week we will know a lot more."

He said progress had been made in all three of the negotiating areas, especially the past, while flags and symbols had proven to be the "toughest area of negotiations".

Dr Haass, who was brought to Northern Ireland with co-chair Prof Meghan O'Sullivan in July by the first and deputy first ministers, said all five parties had "given it their best" and were "prepared to continue" with the process.

"It would have been nice to have come out here tonight and say we have got all five parties completely signed on to the text," he said.

"We are not there but I believe there is a real prospect that we will get several of the parties to sign on the text in full.

"Several of the other parties will endorse significant parts of it, and together this will provide a basis for a serious ongoing political process."

'Disappointment'

The overnight negotiations, which began at 10:00 GMT on Sunday and carried on until 05:00 GMT, were on a seventh set of draft proposals put forward during the talks.

The three key issues have been:

  • The past - more than 3,500 people died in the Troubles, and in almost 3,300 cases no-one was prosecuted. Reaching agreement on how to investigate these killings and what to do about other people affected by the Troubles has so far proved impossible
  • Flags - this issue was highlighted last year when Belfast City Council's decision to fly the union flag from city hall and other council buildings only on 18 designated days sparked street protests
  • Parades - though many are not contentious, some unionist parades that pass through or close to nationalist areas have been controversial. A small number of nationalist parades have also proved contentious in the past

After the talks, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams said his negotiating team believed there was a "basis for a deal in the proposals put forward".

He said the team would recommend it to the party's executive, though he said the proposed deal was "not perfect".

"I'm sure there will be a lot of disappointment out there as people come to terms with the fact that there doesn't appear at this point to be an agreement," he said.

Union flag protester at Belfast City Hall Flags are seen as important expressions of cultural identity in Northern Ireland

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said that while the "broad architecture" of the agreement was acceptable, "some of the language and detail is not what we would have chosen and in some cases we strongly disapprove of the language".

"We entered into this process to get the right deal for the people of Northern Ireland, but not any deal," he added.

"We do not have an agreement this evening but we are committed to continuing this work beyond now in dialogue with others to try and resolve the outstanding issues that need to be addressed," he said.

"We owe that to the people of Northern Ireland, especially to the innocent victims of terrorism who have suffered so much over the decades."

Alliance Party deputy leader Naomi Long said the talks had moved negotiations forward but there were still major challenges over the issues of parades and flags.

"We have seen a huge sea change in the level of political agreement which has exceeded public expectation, particularly in delivering for the victims and the reconciliation process," Mrs Long added.

'Honest debate'

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said despite some concerns he anticipated his party would accept the agreement.

He said: "We would anticipate a general endorsement from the SDLP in due course, that's not to say we're entirely happy... but we do welcome it as far as it goes."

Mike Nesbitt, leader of the UUP, said he had an opinion on the document but was unwilling to disclose it until his party had examined the proposals.

Start Quote

This is not a step back but rather a step not yet taken”

End Quote Eamon Gilmore Irish deputy prime minister

"We will have an honest debate and hopefully form a final opinion at the end of that debate," he said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers expressed disappointment but said the failure to reach agreement did not spell an end to negotiations.

"I welcome the suggestion by Dr Haass that the parties should now lose no time in getting together to see how they can most constructively take things forward," she said.

"For our part, the UK government will look at how we can best facilitate this."

And Labour's Ivan Lewis, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said: "The failure to reach a final agreement is deeply disappointing. However, significant common ground has been identified which should be the basis for future progress."

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