Northern Ireland

Richard Haass talks 'no failure' says Peter Robinson

Peter Robinson
Image caption First Minister Peter Robinson said there were broad areas of agreement following the talks

Talks about contentious issues in Northern Ireland that ended without agreement were not a failure, First Minister Peter Robinson has said.

Months of negotiations about parades, flags and the legacy of the Troubles ended with no deal on proposals drawn up by US diplomat Richard Haass.

It won broad support from Sinn Féin and the SDLP, but the DUP said more work was needed to reach consensus.

Mr Robinson said he felt there was a willingness to make the process work.

Internal discussions

"I do not recognise as accurate reports of 'talks failure', given the wide gulf that existed on the Haass team's arrival and the broad areas of agreement on their departure," said the DUP leader.

"Yes, every party had, and expressed, concerns about features in the final product but I detect from each of the parties a willingness to work on to complete the task."

Image caption Meghan O'Sullivan and Richard Haass co-chaired a series of talks in Northern Ireland

Mr Robinson said the parties should be given time to hold internal discussions about the final draft of proposals.

"We each must identify, not only areas where improvements are being sought, but also, how the problems identified by others can be accommodated in a way that does no injury to our own deeply held positions," he said.

Dr Haass, who was brought to Northern Ireland with co-chair Prof Meghan O'Sullivan in July by the first and deputy first ministers, said that while a final agreement had not been reached by the New Year's Eve deadline, "significant progress" had been made and there was a "basis" for change.

His comments were echoed by Prime Minister David Cameron, who said the talks had "achieved much common ground".

Mr Cameron said that politicians in Northern Ireland must continue their efforts to secure agreement on divisive issues.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Irish government would work with Downing Street and Stormont to support further efforts to achieve greater peace.

The three key issues have been:

  • The past - more than 3,500 people died in the Troubles, and in almost 3,300 cases no-one was prosecuted. Reaching agreement on how to investigate these killings and what to do about other people affected by the Troubles has so far proved impossible
  • Flags - this issue was highlighted last year when Belfast City Council's decision to fly the union flag from city hall and other council buildings only on 18 designated days sparked street protests
  • Parades - though many are not contentious, some unionist parades that pass through or close to nationalist areas have been controversial. A small number of nationalist parades have also proved contentious in the past

After the talks, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams said there would be "a lot of disappointment" that agreement had not been reached, but he believed the proposals contained the "basis for a deal".

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said "much has been achieved in terms of the past", and despite some concerns, he believed his party would endorse the proposals.

Mike Nesbitt, leader of the UUP, said he would not disclose his opinion on the proposals until after his party had "an honest debate" about its contents.

Alliance Party leader David Ford said he was disappointed at the lack of progress on flags and parades, but said there had been "major progress" on the issue of the past.

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