Haass wants public input into NI issues

Wednesday 11 September 2013 23.14
Former US diplomat Richard Haass wants the public to bring forward ideas for resolving some of Northern Ireland's most troublesome issues
Former US diplomat Richard Haass wants the public to bring forward ideas for resolving some of Northern Ireland's most troublesome issues

Former US diplomat Richard Haass wants the public to bring forward ideas for resolving some of Northern Ireland's most troublesome issues.

He was speaking after almost two hours of talks with the First and Deputy First Ministers in New York tonight.

Dr Haass will fly into Belfast next week to chair cross-party talks aimed at resolving three persistent problems not dealt with by the peace process: flags and emblems, parades and the past.

He said: "The idea of this process is not to cut people out. It is to bring people in. We do not come to it with any monopoly of information, insight or wisdom."

Dr Haass is expected to meet political leaders on Tuesday and will speak to clergy and business leaders later in the week.

"We look forward to hearing from as many people as we can and meeting as many people as we can schedule," the former US envoy told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness presented a united front as they attempted to drum up business from potential investors during a visit to the New York Stock Exchange and at an American Ireland Fund benefit event in Manhattan.

The Stormont leaders also projected a positive image during a meeting earlier with billionaire philanthropist and outgoing mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg .

Their US visit is first official engagement for the Stormont leaders since their spat over the future of a new peace centre on the site of the former Maze prison in Co Antrim.

Relations between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein have been frayed during a difficult summer.

However, Dr Haass said he did not believe the atmosphere in which his talks are due to take place had been poisoned by the ongoing Maze row or the summer violence.

Northern Ireland has experienced one of the worst years of street disorder since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Tensions have been high since last December when loyalists embarked on widespread protests, some of which descended into serious rioting over the removal of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall.

Violence erupted throughout July in relation to parading disputes and last month Sinn Fein Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir was attacked on a visit to a unionist area in north Belfast.

Republicans were also heavily criticised by victims campaigners for holding an IRA commemoration parade in Castlederg, Co Tyrone - a town which suffered significantly at the hands of paramilitaries during the Troubles.

All the events have been played out against the backdrop of the ongoing campaign by dissident republicans to de-stabilise the peace process with violence.

Later this week the ministers will tour the Brooklyn Navy Yard and address the the annual Irish America Wall Street 50 Awards.