MARATHON talks aimed at securing long-sought resolution to outstanding peace-process issues in Northern Ireland have failed to produce an agreement.
Former US diplomat Richard Haass, who was given until the end of the year to strike a deal on flags, disputed parades and the legacy of the Troubles, was unable to attain consensus among Stormont’s five main parties despite a final night of negotiations.
The two nationalist parties – Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) – have signalled a willingness to back Dr Haass’s proposals.
But while the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists pledged to take the document back for consultation with their party executives, both expressed major concerns about elements of the proposed framework.
The cross-community Alliance Party said it would endorse the proposals on the past, but rejected the suggested resolutions on flags and parades.
Dr Haass said a working group of representatives of the five parties, which all make up the power-sharing executive, would now be set up to try to find another way to build on “significant progress” that had been achieved.
The former White House special envoy to the region said: “Yes, it would have been nice to come out here tonight and say we have got all five parties completely signed on to the text. We are not there.”
Dr Haass, who was commissioned by DUP first minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness to chair the six-month talks process, 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: “We very much hope that the parties reflect on this, discuss it with their leadership and then come back with a strong endorsement.”
The last round of negotiations at the Stormont Hotel in Belfast began at about 10am on Monday and effectively carried straight through to 5am yesterday.
Ahead of flying back to the US, Dr Haass urged Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to make the details of his final proposals public so people could make up their own minds. He denied the process had been a failure. He added: “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. What I believe we have done is laid down solid enough foundation stones.”
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams signalled his party’s willingness to strike a full deal and said he would be urging the party’s executive to endorse it.
He said the proposals presented by Dr Haass represented a “compromise position” and provided the basis for agreement.
He said: “They aren’t perfect, we have had to stretch ourselves to embrace them.”
DUP negotiator Jeffrey Donaldson said progress had been made but a number of difficulties remained.
He said: “We are committed to continuing this work beyond now in dialogue with others to try and resolve the outstanding issues that need to be addressed.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said the failure to reach a comprehensive agreement should not be seen as the end of the road.