‘Premature’ to expect lasting peace in Northern Ireland, US envoy warns Richard Haass urges Belfast against complacency and cautions violence could still return

Posted By: March 13, 2014


Former US diplomat Richard Haass (R) and co-chair Meghan O'Sullivan (L) pause as they speak to the media during a press conference at the Stormont hotel in Belfast
Richard Haass warned that “the passage of time will not by itself heal Northern Ireland’s society”. Photo: PETER MUHLY/AFP/Getty Images
Raf SanchezBy Raf Sanchez, Washington

TELEGRAPH. 12 Mar 2014Comments2 Comments
Northern Ireland’s path to peace and prosperity is far from assured and violence is likely to return unless its political factions are able to deliver progress, the former US peace envoy has warned.
Dr Richard Haass urged against complacency on the peace process and said it was “premature” to expect lasting stability in Northern Ireland following the breakdown of all-party negotiations last year.
The veteran American diplomat spent months mediating talks between the Northern Ireland executive’s five parties on the issues of flags, parades and contending with the past.
The talks broke down on New Year’s Eve after a draft agreement was rejected by the two unionist parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

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Speaking at a US Congressional hearing, Dr Haass urged the parties to head back to the negotiating table and warned “the passage of time will not by itself heal Northern Ireland’s society”.
“To the contrary, absent political progress, the passage of time will only create an environment in which social division intensifies, violence increases, investment is scared off, alienation grows, and the best and brightest leave to make their futures elsewhere,” he said.
“It is premature to put Northern Ireland into the outbox of problems solved,” he added.
Dr Haass’s proposals would have created a new framework for adjudicating controversial sectarian parades and a commission to examine the issue of flags and the Gaelic language.
He also proposed a new unit to investigate the outstanding cases among the 3,000 deaths during the Troubles and potentially refer them for prosecutions.
Talks around his draft proposal continued after December 31 but stalled again following the controversy over so-called “on-the-runs”, letters sent by the British government to IRA suspects informing them they did not face arrest.
Although the letters did not offer amnesty, and left open the possibility of prosecuting the suspects if new evidence emerged, they were met with outrage by unionists.
Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, threatened to resign as first minister over the issue but withdrew the threat after David Cameron ordered a judge-led inquiry.
Dr Haass told The Telegraph he did not believe that on-the-run controversy should derail negotiations over his proposals.
“I don’t believe they would justify not continuing the talks,” he said.
Mr Robinson and Martin McGuinness, the republican deputy first minister, will both be in Washington on Friday for St Patrick’s Day.
The unionist and republican leaders will meet with Joe Biden, the vice-president and America’s highest-profile Irish-American politician, who is expected to urge them to continue talks.