DUP signals 'tough months' for Haass talks

Peter Robinson said it was possible to make progress on the outstanding issues.

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Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson has said he does not expect difficult issues around parades, flags and the past to be solved by Christmas.

Speaking after the DUP met US diplomat Richard Haass on Wednesday, he said a December deadline for resolution would be difficult to meet,

November and December would be "tough months" but significant progress could be made, he said.

Dr Haass is chairing talks on challenging issues for NI politicians.

Speaking outside the Stormont Hotel in Belfast after his party's meeting, Mr Robinson said: "Do I believe we will be able to have all of these issues cut and dried and resolved by Christmas? No, I don't.

"Do I believe that there can be progress on each of them and some more than others? Yes, I do. I believe it is possible to make progress."

The DUP delegation met Dr Haass for about one hour and 15 minutes on Wednesday, the second day of negotiations.

DOORSTEP PUTDOWN?

As a seasoned diplomat, Richard Haass is well used to talking to reporters.

After his press conference yesterday, I assumed the former envoy was in a talkative mood so I approached him as he walked towards the Stormont Hotel.

I introduced myself, we shook hands and, under the glare of the cameras, said: "How are the talks going?"

He smiled and replied: "They are going," and with a spring in his step bounded into the hotel.

In journalistic circles such encounters are known as "doorsteps" and this will go down as one of the briefest I have ever conducted. One colleague suggested that my interviewing technique needed refining and he thought I should have said: "Bout ye, Dr Haass?"

Maybe that is what went wrong.

Richard Haass is getting a ringside view of political life here. His diary is filled with meetings with the great and the good. He wants to discover what divides us and he wants to help us find common ground. He wants to speak our language .So next time I encounter him perhaps I should take my colleague's advice.

You can follow Stephen on twitter on @StepWalkTV

Mr Robinson acknowledged there would be challenges ahead, saying November and December would be the "tough months" when it would be about getting down to "the real work".

On Tuesday, Dr Haass met delegations from the two main nationalist parties - Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

The SDLP told him he should put forward his own proposals if the parties cannot find agreement by Christmas.

He also heard from Sinn Féin who think the problems on the agenda can be resolved, but acknowledge that dealing with the past might prove the most difficult.

The US team moved to the Stormont hotel on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Dr Haass and Prof Meghan O'Sullivan, the vice chair of the talks, met a delegation from the Royal Black Institution - one of the Protestant loyal orders in Northern Ireland - who described the discussion as "worthwhile and constructive".

The institution presented Dr Haass with a 15-point discussion paper that dealt mainly with the issue of parading.

Dr Haass and Prof O'Sullivan then met the Ulster Unionists, who have said they want to ensure that the views of innocent victims and security force veterans are heard.

Afterwards, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said it was a useful meeting and said the real work would be done in round-table discussions. He said his party was looking for political consensus and the hope was to produce agreement before the end of the year.

Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan met representatives of the Royal Black Institution Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan met representatives of the Royal Black Institution on Wednesday

Dr Haass then met the DUP.

A meeting with the Alliance Party is scheduled for the early evening. The party has welcomed Dr Haass' indication that segregation in education and housing can be discussed.

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

He is due to meet all five Executive parties for plenary talks on Friday.

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