Northern Ireland

No Haass deal reached after overnight talks

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Media captionThe political talks chaired by the former US diplomat Richard Haass have broken up without agreement.

Northern Ireland parties who held talks through the night about how to resolve some of the province's most contentious issues, have failed to reach agreement.

The negotiations at Stormont are being chaired by the former United States diplomat Richard Haass.

They are intended to find consensus on flags, parades and the past by the end of the year.

Dr Haass is returning to the United States for Christmas. He will now send revised proposals to the five parties.

Speaking at 04:00 GMT on Tuesday, he said: "The work done politically and intellectually on contending the past is truly significant.

"I think also there has been important work done on the question of parading.

"Yes, it's true that the work done on flags is quite disappointing by any measure but the other two areas, are I believe, quite impressive. I believe it would be a real shame not to turn that work into a reality.

"Let me be clear about this, we don't have an agreement. (But) in no way have we given up on the possibility of still reaching agreement before the end of the year.

"We are not going to be able to put it under anyone's Christmas tree, but again, we still have a week (before the 31 December deadline)."

He said he would assess the response to his new suggestions before deciding whether to return for fresh negotiations before the end of the year.

Dr Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan were brought to Northern Ireland in July by the first and deputy first ministers, with an aim of finding consensus on the displaying of national flags, the holding of parades and how to come to terms with the violence of the past.

The latest round of negotiations continued through Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday as politicians discussed the latest proposals from the former US diplomat.

Tense negotiations

The talks on his fourth blueprint on flags, parades and the past were described as "potentially critical".

A fortnight of increasingly intense negotiations culminated in the all-night session.

Dr Haass had hoped a deal could be reached by Christmas but, after eight hours of talks, he conceded agreement was not on the cards.

There was no one sticking point, but unionists expressed concern about proposals to give a new Independent Commission for the Retrieval of Information responsibility for exploring broad themes related to the Troubles, potentially including collusion.

Dr Haass has promised to send the negotiators another reworked blueprint - his fifth set of proposals.

He said he will not conduct a post mortem examination on his talks "as the patient is still alive".

Most of the talks negotiators expressed determination to try to overcome the remaining obstacles, however Alliance MP Naomi Long said she believed the Haass process was "now on life support".

Early on Tuesday morning Dr Haass tweeted: "NI talks end w/o (without) accord; gaps persist on past, parades, flags; will explore if a last push justified; hope so, as all would gain from pact."

Stretch parties

His first three sets of proposals deliberately tested out contrasting ideas on the parties, but his fourth blueprint was billed as an attempt to find some common ground.

It was said to be designed to stretch the parties, but not beyond breaking point.

The latest document did not have much on flags, which drew little agreement between the parties.

There was understood to be a fair amount on the proposed replacement for the Parades Commission, which regulates controversial parades, and quite a lot on a new approach to dealing with the past.

It is understood the parties still disagree on more than 20 points, including whether a new single historical investigations unit should be limited to examining specific incidents or should look at broad themes such as the role of collusion during Northern Ireland's Troubles.

The timetable for the talks were revised a number of times on Monday.

Originally, a round-table session had been scheduled for 11:00 GMT, however, it was later shifted to 18:00 GMT then to 20:00 GMT.

They got underway at about 20:50 GMT.

The delays on Monday appear to reflect the difficulties facing Dr Haass and his co-chair, Dr O'Sullivan, in bridging the gaps between the parties.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The parties and Dr Haass have been holding a series of round-table talks

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