Don’t waste Haas chance

Unless concenus is reached soon over the Haass proposals on dealing with the past, parading and flags, there may not be another opportunity for ten years, a leading republican told a Derry audience. Sean ‘Spike’ Murray, a senior Sinn Féin strategist, made the comment at a panel discussion held in the Foyle Theatre, Derry, on Friday evening as part of the Bloody Sunday commemorations.

The discussion, entitled ‘Dealing with the Haass,’ also involved SDLP MLA Alex Attwood, Rev Leslie Carrol from Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church, Belfast, journalist and author Anne Calwallader, and political commetator Denis Bradley It was chaired by former journalist and commentator Paul McFadden.

It focused on the proposals put forward by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass on the controversial issues of the past, parading and flags. No agreement has yet been reached on the proposals with the SDLP and Sinn Féin endorsing the document and the DUP, UUP and Alliance rejecting it.

Mr Murray, the Sinn Féin representative at the talks, warned that the momentum of the negotiations could be lost if agreement is not reached.

“If this opportunity is lost now we might not have another opportunity for five of ten years,” he said.

The senior republican also said loyalist paramilitary elements influenced the DUP during the negotiations. “The DUP negotiating position was determined by external factors in the loyal orders and band organnisations, and for band organisations see the UVF,” he said.

Mr Attwood said the concerns of victims and survivors of the Troubles were a major influence on the talks process. “I think the views of victims and survivors define for the public the success or otherwise of Haass,” he said.

The West Belfast MLA also said failure to reach agreement will have a major impact on the political landscape of the North. “If we don’t reach agreement our politics will continue to degrade and I don’t think that is a place the parties or people want us to be or a place the three governments will allow us to be,” he said.

Mr Bradley called on the British and Irish Governments to intervene to end the impasse and urged the US Government to put pressure on both administrations.

However, Mr Bradley, sounded an optimistic note and said he believed progress could still be made. “I have reason to believe it’s much more positive this week than it was last week,” he said.