Richard Haass talks crucially important: Martin McGuinness

Richard Haass Richard Haass was invited by the first and deputy first minister to chair the talks

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Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has described inter-party talks designed to resolve issues over parades, flags and Northern Ireland's past as "crucially important".

US diplomat Richard Haass is due to begin chairing the talks in Belfast on Tuesday.

He will try to make progress on areas that have proven too difficult for the Northern Ireland parties to resolve.

The five Stormont executive parties will be represented at the talks.

Dr Haass has also encouraged community groups and smaller parties to contribute ideas to the talks.

He was chosen to chair the discussions by the first and deputy first ministers.

Speaking in the assembly on Tuesday, Mr McGuinness said: "These are crucially important talks and the issues like the past, flags and parades are matters we have failed to reach agreement on.

Violence

"These have all played out to our detriment in the recent past.

"The issues of segregated education and housing have also been mentioned by Mr Haass and we in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) are committed to addressing these aspects at strategic level."

Mr McGuinness also pledged his party Sinn Féin's "full intention to work closely with him to find solutions to these difficult issues".

Analysis

Nothing divides Northern Ireland's politicians more than the history of the past 40 years.

There is not even political agreement on what constitutes a "victim".

Previous initiatives that have examined the legacy of the past have proved controversial.

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Differences over flags and parades fuelled violence on the streets in recent months, while the lack of consensus over the past has frequently overshadowed policy debates.

It is a decade since Dr Haass was last formally involved in Northern Ireland as President Bush's special envoy.

On this occasion, he will be assisted by Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan, who served as a senior US diplomat in Iraq, and Charles Landow, an official at Dr Haass's New York think tank.

The team will be based at Belfast's Europa hotel and the talks are expected to conclude by the end of the year.

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