Robinson warning on Haass peace talks proposals


First Minister Peter Robinson has said he would be outraged if proposals for dealing with unresolved issues from the Northern Ireland peace process were not revised.

The leader of Northern Ireland’s largest party said he could not agree to draft plans for resolving tensions over contentious loyal order parades, flags and the legacy of the region’s 30-year conflict - issues which remain outstanding from the peace process and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Democratic Unionist Party chief claimed the all-party talks were moving backwards on flags. Restrictions on the flying of the Union flag a year ago sparked weeks of serious violence from loyalists.

Former US diplomat Richard Haass is hosting negotiations at Stormont.

Mr Robinson said: “If I thought this was the final paper, there would be steam coming out of my ears.”

Dr Haass, a former special envoy to Northern Ireland during the Bush administration, has spent weeks in discussions in Belfast, London and Dublin and hopes to submit recommendations to the ministerial Executive at Stormont by Christmas.

The five party Executive, while a coalition, is dominated by the DUP and Sinn Fein. The Ulster Unionists, nationalist SDLP and centrist Alliance Party make up the other governing partners.

The Executive, while resolute that an upsurge in recent dissident republican violence will not shake it, has made few key decisions in recent months following a loyalist summer marching season pockmarked by violence and amid unionist concern that senior Sinn Fein MLAs have glorified the past deeds of the IRA combined with sharp differences over whether the guilty should be brought to justice.

Loyalists have fought sporadic but fierce pitched battles with police over truncated marches and during protests against the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall a year ago.

Haass talks negotiators viewed draft recommendations today and are due for more dialogue later this week.

The First Minister, while keeping details of the discussion papers secret, claimed Dr Haass had not “tempered” some of his material but said progress could still be made.

“There are some things that are totally unacceptable and we would be outraged if we really believed that Dr Haass was serious in believing that that was going to be an outcome,” he said.

“I suspect that Dr Haass, like everybody else, is hearing views from a wide range of people and putting some of their comments within the papers to allow people to react, well, he is going to get a reaction.”

He said some of the experienced foreign policy expert’s suggestions were still unacceptable to the DUP and very considerable work had still to be done to mend the “inadequacies”.

Mr Robinson said he would recommend none of the papers at present to the full party membership but added progress could still be made in at least two of the three areas.

“Nobody is throwing the towel in at this stage. We are just saying that there is not a set of proposals that we can support, agree to or recommend.”

He said he did not get angry in the middle of a talks process.

“If I though that was the final paper there would be steam coming out of my ears,” he added.

“But it is not the final paper and we still have work to do and we are up to doing that work.”