Former US envoy to hold talks with Taoiseach

A former US diplomat trying to resolve ongoing issues in the North will today hold talks with the Irish Government.

A former US diplomat trying to resolve ongoing issues in the North will today hold talks with the Irish Government.

Ex-White House envoy to the region Dr Richard Haass will travel to Dublin where he will meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings.

He will then join Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore at Iveagh House for discussions on contentious issues in the north – such as parades, flags and emblems, and dealing with the past.

Dr Haass arrived in Belfast earlier this week for his second visit aimed at forging agreement on three of the most long-standing disputes facing the power-sharing administration at Stormont.

He said upon his arrival that he was optimistic that a mood for compromise is emerging and that he sensed people were ready to move on.

During his visit to Dublin today, Dr Haass will also meet members of the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, the Ulster Council of the GAA, and with members of 15 Years On, a group involved in peace building and reconciliation.

Dr Haass is the current president of US think-tank the Council for Foreign Relations and was envoy to Northern Ireland between 2001 and 2003 under George W Bush’s presidency.

Last month he held more than 30 engagements with politicians from the five Executive parties – which are all taking part in the cross party talks process - senior clergy, the Orange Order and business leaders.

He started his second visit by holding meetings with some of the smaller parties in Northern Ireland that are not represented at the Executive table.

The diplomat has an end of the year deadline to produce a set of recommendations.

The talks chairman has already briefed British Prime Minister David Cameron on a recent visit to London.

The Haass talks are being billed as the most important since the 2010 Hillsborough negotiations when responsibilities for policing and justice were devolved to the Stormont Executive.

They follow one of the most difficult summers in the North since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Loyalist tensions over flags and parades sparked mass protests, some of which boiled over into violence on the streets, while republicans have been heavily criticised by victims campaigners for holding a number of IRA commemorations.

At the Executive, political relations between the two largest parties – the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin – have also been strained – exemplified by a DUP decision in the late summer to withdraw its support for a controversial peace centre on the site of the former paramilitary prison at the Maze in Co Antrim.

Meanwhile, the threat from dissident republican terror groups opposed to the peace process continues to remain severe, with repeated attempts to target members of the police.

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