Robinson and McGuinness set Christmas deadline on flags

media captionPeter Robinson and Martin McGuinness want a cross-party group to move forward on flags, parades and the past

Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers have set a Christmas deadline for agreement on the questions of flags, parades and the past.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness want a cross party group tasked with finding a way forward on the issues to meet within the next four weeks.

The ministers hope representatives of the five main Stormont parties will join the group.

They want an independent chair with the qualities of Senator George Mitchell.

He chaired the talks that led to the Good Friday agreement.

The ministers do not intend to impose their choice of chair - instead they are looking for suggestions from all the participants in the cross party group.

After Thursday's meeting of the power sharing executive, the first and deputy first ministers published a strategy for building a shared future called Together: Building a United Community.

The document confirms proposals revealed earlier this month that include a ten-year timetable for removing peace walls and plans for more shared education campuses and thousands of work placements for young people not currently employed or on a course.

It also extends cross community work further down the age range and confirmis plans for a "buddy scheme" to bring nursery and primary school children from different backgrounds together.

At a briefing on Thursday, the ministers outlined their plans for a second visit to China this weekend, when they hope to meet senior Chinese leaders in Beijing.

Both politicians strongly rejected suggestions that their trips overseas are junkets. Both men said they would rather stay at home than make such long international trips, but bringing jobs back to Northern Ireland depended on developing relationships with influential people in emerging markets.

The first minister rejected suggestions that the politicians should consider taking economy flights or staying in two-star hotels. Mr Robinson said some people appeared to want Stormont leaders to take a tent and camp in a park.

He said Stormont trips cost significantly less than those made by other administrations but "if you want us to go by EasyJet or Flybe, then you'll be perceived, in whatever country you go to, in exactly that manner".

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