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12 January 2014 Edition

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Unionist U-turn on Haass agreement UUP leader said ‘90% over the line’

DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson briefed Willie Frazer as parties neared talks deadline

• Lack of leadership – Mike Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionist Party

• Dr Haass and Professor O’Sullivan have released a two-page fact-sheet summarising the Draft Agreement: panelofpartiesnie.com

THE lack of leadership in mainstream political unionism was laid bare on Monday 6 January when the Ulster Unionist Party Executive rejected the Haass document on flags, parades and the past that its own leader had declared was “90% over the line”.

Democratic Unionist Party chief negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson also admitted he had been briefing fringe loyalist agitator Willie Frazer as the Haass deadline approached.

Frazer was at the Stormont Hotel during the Haass negotiations with fellow ‘flags campaigners’ Jamie Bryson and Jim Dowson (Dowson used to be chief fund-raiser for the racist British National Party).

This confirmed earlier suggestions by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness that the Orange Order and unelected hardline loyalists have been heavily influencing the DUP and UUP.

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• The Orange Order’s Reverend Mervyn Gibson

Orange Order Grand Chaplain Reverend Mervyn Gibson accepted the DUP’s invitation to be part of its three-member negotiating team at the Stormont Hotel talks even though he is not a member of the DUP.

Martin McGuinness said on Monday 6 January, prior to the UUP Executive meeting:

“As political leaders we have a responsibility to all citizens to deliver. I have a concern that the agenda for both unionist parties is being set not by this requirement but by the needs and demands of the Orange Order.”

“It is clear that there are elements of the Orange Order and extreme loyalism who do not want to see progress, they do not want to see agreement and they are hostile to the idea of peace building and a shared future. Adopting a negotiating strategy which is driven by these negative elements is a huge mistake.” 

UUP Executive

Rejecting the Haass proposals, a terse statement from the Ulster Unionist Party Executive meeting said that the UUP “seeks a positive resolution to the issues of flags, parading and dealing with the past”, adding without elaboration:

“Consequently, this Executive believes the Haass document is not viable and therefore unacceptable.

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• DUP negotiator briefed fringe loyalist Willie Frazer

“This Executive further calls on OFMdFM to sort out the mess resulting from the process they initiated.

“The Ulster Unionist Party will examine any measures brought forward by the First Minister and deputy First Minister and report again to the Executive at its next scheduled meeting in February.”

Gerry Kelly told An Phoblacht as we went to press the day after the UUP Executive decision he was disappointed at the UUP reaction:

“Right up to the last minute of the eleventh hour, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was up for accepting the report and moving ahead. He did have reservations but every party had their individual reservations and it’s about compromise. That’s what it’s all about.”

Down to the wire

‘The Haass Talks’ went down to the wire and ended in the early hours of New Year’s Eve without agreement.

The main unionist parties rejected the seventh and final draft of a 38-page document drawn up by US former diplomat Dr Richard Haass and international affairs expert Professor Meghan O’Sullivan.

Sinn Féin’s talks team (led by Gerry Kelly MLA, Jennifer McCann MLA and Seán Murray) said even though Sinn Féin had reservations there was enough in the Haass document to recommend it for acceptance by the party’s Ard Chomhairle as a basis for moving forward.

Notwithstanding Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt being seen on TV telling reporters at the Stormont Hotel that he didn’t see why the talks couldn’t succeed, the UUP and the larger DUP dashed hopes of a ‘New Year’s Day Agreement’ to complement and build on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

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• Seán Murray, Gerry Kelly and Jennifer McCann led the Sinn Féin delegation at the talks

Dr Haass said at a 5am press conference that there had been significant progress despite no agreement there and then:

“Success should not be measured by what we report to you tonight or what the party leaders report tonight. I would ask you to judge the success in six months, in a year, 18 months, in two years; that would give a much more realistic definition or yardstick of what constitutes success.

“What I believe what we have done is laid down solid enough foundations stones.”

At the conclusion of the talks, Gerry Adams said that Sinn Féin had “stretched ourselves in these negotiations and we are up for this challenge.”

He called on the two governments and all of the parties to the Haass talks “to grasp the opportunity that now exists to resolve outstanding issues which were part of previous agreements but which were not advanced here this evening”. These include Acht na Gaeilge and commitments on the Irish language from the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement, and the Maze/Long Kesh development, a commitment in the Programme for Government.

Gerry Kelly told An Phoblacht:

“You shouldn’t have to renegotiate these things that have been previously agreed – you should implement them.”

• Dr Haass and Professor O’Sullivan have released a two-page fact-sheet summarising the Draft Agreement: panelofpartiesnie.com

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