US urges compromise in Northern peace talks

The Obama administration has urged politicians in Northern Ireland to compromise on a deal on parading, flags, and dealing with the region’s troubled past.

Five-party talks enter their final hours today in a last-ditch attempt to reach agreement on issues left over from the peace process.

Former US diplomat Richard Haass has been leading negotiations in a bid to prevent a resumption of recent sectarian violence.

US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden expressed confidence that a deal could be reached “Initiating these talks demonstrated the commitment of the parties and people of Northern Ireland to move forward on tough issues. We are confident that a solution can be reached if there is political will on all sides,” Ms Hayden said. “We call upon the leadership of the five parties to make the compromises necessary to conclude an agreement now, one that would help heal the divisions that continue to stand between the people of Northern Ireland and the future they deserve.”

Measures intended to ease months of simmering resentment and violence are extraordinarily close to gaining support, Dr Haass has said, adding that the missing ingredient was not more time and urging politicians to grasp the opportunity to do a deal.

A session starting at 6am today will bring six months of increasingly intense negotiations to a head after the conflict resolution expert cut short his Christmas break to kickstart one last round of discussions.

Dr Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan, who worked in post-conflict Iraq, were asked by Northern Ireland’s ministerial executive in July to lead talks after a violent summer of parade and protest.

Serious loyalist rioting broke out a year ago after restrictions were imposed on the flying of the union flag from Belfast City Hall.

This summer’s marching season sparked riots after a decision was taken to reroute a loyal order parade away from a traditional scene of yearly violence in north Belfast.

The talks are intended to provide a framework for when contentious flags can be flown, for dealing with victims of 30 years of violence which produced more than 3,000 lost lives, and deciding whether perpetrators should face prison or be asked to tell the truth to grieving relatives.

Politicians also hope for consensus on a new body to decide where members of the loyal orders and republicans can march.

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