Northern Ireland’s political leaders published a draft agreement on outstanding peace process issues only hours after Executive parties failed to reach consensus on the proposals.
The stalled blueprint for dealing with divisive problems around flags, parades, and the legacy of the Troubles was drawn up by former US diplomat Richard Haass, who chaired a six-month, five-party talks process that ended at 5am yesterday morning without a settlement.
Democratic Unionist First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness — who had commissioned the one-time White House special envoy to oversee the negotiations — put the document on the website of their joint office so people could assess the plans for themselves.
While Dr Haass did not meet his end-of-year deadline to achieve consensus on the long running disputes, his draft agreement could yet form the basis for a deal. Sinn Féin and the SDLP have signalled a willingness to back his proposals.
The DUP and Ulster Unionists have acknowledged progress has been made and have pledged to take the document back for consultation with their respective party executives, but both expressed major concerns about details of the paper as it stands.
The cross-community Alliance Party said it would endorse the document’s proposals on the past, but rejected the suggested resolutions on flags and parades in their current form.
The parties are now set to establish a Stormont working group to try and reach an accommodation in 2014.
However, without the direction of such an experienced independent chair and with elections looming in May, some fear the window of opportunity may have passed.
Before flying home to the US, Dr Haass had urged Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to publish the document.
He said the working group of representatives of the five parties, which all make up the power-sharing executive, would try to find another way to build on “significant progress” that had been achieved.
The former White House special envoy to the region said he believed there was a prospect that all the parties would either endorse all, or significant parts, of his document in the future.
He said: “All the parties support significant parts of the agreement. At the same time, all have some concerns. We very much hope that the parties reflect on this, discuss it with their leadership and then come back with a strong endorsement. Over the next week we will know a lot more.”
He added: “What I believe we have done is laid down solid enough foundation stones.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny urged all the political parties in the North to reflect on the progress that had been achieved.
“The Irish Government stands ready to work with the Northern Ireland Executive, and with the British Government, to support further efforts to achieve greater peace and build a united community in Northern Ireland,” he said.
There was little or no progress made on flags, with instead a proposal to set up a commission to examine the issues over a longer term.
The final document also proposes the replacement of the Government-appointed Parades Commission with another set of structures to judge on marches.
The text also envisages a new mechanism to oversee dealing with the legacy of the past — with a truth recovery body that would potentially offer limited immunity from prosecution to those who co-operate.
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