Friday, December 27, 2013

Haass Talks: Agreement is Possible

Many people will be disappointed that the all-party talks broke up without agreement for Christmas. Sinn Féin shares that disappointment.

However, it is our view that progress was made and that agreement is possible when the talks recommence.

I want to thank Dr. Richard Haass, Meghan O Sullivan, Charlie Landow and their team, and our colleagues in all five parties represented in the talks.

The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle met on December 23rd at my request and authorised our negotiating team to conclude an agreement with the other parties to be considered by a subsequent meeting of the Ard Chomhairle. That remains our firm intention. For this reason we welcome the return of Richard Haass and Meghan O'Sullivan.

Our delegation told the last plenary in the early hours of Christmas Eve that we believed there was the basis for an agreement on the mechanisms proposed to deal with the three issues under consideration.

We would like to see some of these strengthened and have made a number of suggestions on how this can be achieved.

Parades; Select Commemorations; and related protests:

Sinn Féin has always highlighted the imperative of direct meaningful dialogue as the best means of resolving the few remaining parading disputes.

In the absence of dialogue or a failure to reach agreement there is an obvious requirement for a robust regulatory body.

Our negotiating team believes the proposals contained in this paper go a long way in terms of satisfying this.

Flags and emblems:

We are disappointed that a comprehensive agreement on the flags issue has not been reached so far.

Our disappointment will be shared by many who want agreement on the flying of flags on public buildings and the unofficial flying of flags in public spaces.

This is about equality and parity of esteem.

Republicans and nationalists must respect all identities and cultures, including the right of people to identify themselves, and to be accepted as British.

The same respect must be accorded to Irishness, including the right of citizens to use their own language.

A comprehensive agreement is long overdue and that must be our focus but in the absence of a comprehensive agreement the new proposed Commission will provide space for that discussion to take place.

It will allow the opportunity for everyone to bring forward ideas and plans which will see parity of esteem delivered to both British and Irish identities. This would include an Irish Language Act — a modest step which threatens no-one. All of this needs to be done in a sensible and non-confrontational way.

Contending with the Past:

Over a decade ago Sinn Féin proposed the establishment of an Independent International Truth Commission. In our view that remains the best option.

However that approach has not found political agreement in these talks.

But there is acceptance that the status quo is not an option.

A basis for compromise has been proposed.

Closure for victims and survivors is the real benchmark against which this proposition will in time be judged.

This would certainly be our hope.

There is already a widespread acceptance that there isn’t one narrative of our past.

I would not expect unionists or the British Government to embrace the republican narrative and therefore I do not think others should expect republicans to agree to their positions.

We should however accept that all of us have sincerely held views based on the reality of our different experiences and the narratives arising from this.

In conclusion let me say that it would be a matter of grave disappointment for all of those who are dependent on these discussions to build hope and a peaceful future based on equality, if the parties do not find a way to resolve these issues. Failure is not an option.

As the New Year approaches there is a duty and responsibility on all the parties to these negotiations, despite the challenges, to find a way forward.

With a fair wind the proposals under consideration can do this and I would appeal to everyone to overcome any difficulties which may remain.

That is what the greater majority of our people expect.

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