UUP Haass rejection 'shows disdain' says Alliance Party

Mike Nesbitt: "Up to first and deputy first ministers to define way forward"

The UUP's rejection of proposals drawn up by US diplomat Richard Haass "shows disdain for the people of Northern Ireland", the Alliance Party has said.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said the proposals were "not viable or acceptable".

Months of negotiations about parades, flags and the legacy of the Troubles ended on New Year's Eve with no deal.

Alliance Party MLA Stephen Farry said Mr Nesbitt had sent mixed signals and needed to clarify his position.

"Less than a week ago, he was clearly indicating his intention that the UUP would be giving a positive response," he said.

"So either he was being disingenuous or he is a willing captive of the extreme elements in our society that are simply not prepared to compromise for the greater good."

'Obvious mess'

The Ulster Unionist Party's 100-strong ruling executive discussed its response to the proposals drawn up by Dr Haass and co-chair Prof Meghan O'Sullivan on Monday evening.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Nesbitt said the first and deputy first ministers must "clear up the obvious mess created by this process".

He said that while the document was not acceptable, "neither is the status quo".

On Tuesday, he added: "We have to find a better and fairer way forward for the people of Northern Ireland, not least so we can move on and discuss the economy and education and health and housing, which is where we in the Ulster Unionist Party wanted us to be in 2014.

"I want the first and deputy first ministers to identify the next step and future work as defined in the terms of reference of this process, a process which they initiated."

In response, the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said: "I suspect some people, having heard the (Ulster Unionist) party leader Mike Nesbitt talk about being over 90% of the way there with Haass, now describing what has emerged as a mess, will wonder how on earth they've arrived at that position."

Mr Donaldson said his party's meeting with loyalist Willie Frazer was part of consultation with a range of groups across the community.

"During the Haass process we met with hundreds of people, literally hundreds of people, in the consultation process from right across the community. Many of those were from the victims' sector.

"I think it's interesting that republicans and some elements of the media are singling on one particular consultee and trying to suggest that this proves that unionists are being led by the nose."

'Pontius Pilate moment'

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said: "This was always a compromise document, there were five parties involved, that was the whole essence of it.

"You don't go into a negotiation and come out the other side with a republican document, or for that matter a DUP document or a UUP document or an Alliance document.

"We would argue that there is a basis to move ahead, despite some of the disappointments."

The SDLP's Alex Attwood accused the UUP of having a "Pontius Pilate moment".

"Washing their hands of Haass/O'Sullivan is not an act of leadership," he said.

"To then suggest handing it all over to the first and deputy first ministers where issues and politics are so stuck is plain bad judgement.

"To move Haass/O'Sullivan forward needs action by the two governments and the five parties."

Student leader Rebecca Hall said young people feel "extremely let down" by the lack of agreement.

The NUS-USI president added: "This opportunity has been squandered, and in the week since the talks ended there has been little positive action.

"Young people are being left without hope and are worried that their future will be blighted by the trouble and division of the past. "

On Monday, Dr Haass and Prof O'Sullivan published a two-page summary of their blueprint.

In it, they said the implementation of their proposals "would leave the people of Northern Ireland considerably better off than they are today by tackling the difficult issues that continue to divide society".

"It is the product of work informed by a sense of urgency given the tension and violence of the past year and the need to contend with the past before the passage of time makes this even more difficult," they said.

"It is not self-implementing, but requires approval, resources, and support for implementation in Northern Ireland and, for certain elements, in Westminster and elsewhere."

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