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Thursday 18 September 2014

Haass proposals in limbo until 'super councils' poll

Alan Murray, Jim Cusack and Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 05/01/2014 | 02:30

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US diplomat Richard Haass (right) with Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan, speaking to the media at Stormont Hotel in Belfast. Photo: Press Association

NO movement on the proposals by the American diplomat Richard Haass to settle the age-old disputes in Northern Ireland is expected until after key elections to be held in May this year, according to well-placed political sources.

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Unionists in particular were said to be concerned that any perceived climbdown over the contentious Orange parades issues could damage their core support in the forthcoming 'super councils' elections on May 22.

The elections are the most important since the 2011 Assembly elections. Northern Ireland's entire local authority structures have been reorganised and there will now be 11 'super councils' compared with the old 26 local government areas.

There have already been squabbles -- particularly over the newly enlarged Belfast City council area, which could for the first time have a nationalist majority.

Unionist sources yesterday indicated that the proposals put forward by Dr Haass as a formula to deal with the legacy of the past and parade issues in the North look likely to be rejected by the two main unionist parties, despite Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness urging unionists to support the proposals.

However, senior figures in both the DUP and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) yesterday indicated that they would have difficulties doing so.

"We need to have further discussions and changes to the Haass document before we could endorse it," one senior DUP figure told the Sunday Independent.

Despite DUP leader Peter Robinson insisting that the Haass initiative had not been a failure, there are growing signs within both the DUP and the UUP that neither party will accept the proposals in the document.

The UUP leader Mike Nesbitt faces major opposition from within his own party.

Former Stormont minister Michael McGimpsey is one of a number of MLAs who have expressed opposition to the document and more opponents were expected to make their opposition known at the party's 100-strong Executive Committee meeting in Templepatrick tomorrow night.

The Reverend Mervyn Gibson has indicated that the proposals on parades could cause the Orange Order more problems than the current legislation, while retired police officers are either concerned about some aspects of the proposals to deal with the past or are opposed to them.

Meanwhile, a woman whose brother was murdered by alleged members of the IRA seven years after the signing of the Belfast Agreement has strongly criticised the draft document, issued in the wake of the breakdown of the Haass all-party talks in Northern Ireland, for ignoring victims of violence after 1998.

"I'm astounded at the failure of the parties to acknowledge the victims created after the Good Friday Agreement," said Catherine McCartney, whose brother Robert was stabbed to death outside Magennis's bar in South Belfast in 2005.

She has now signed her name to a letter sent to every party in the North except Sinn Fein, asking them to reject the 1998 cut-off date and to "publicly stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who would be effectively excluded, insulted and ignored by the Haass Document".

No one was ever convicted of Robert McCartney's murder, not least because organised rioting in the area in the hours immediately following the brutal attack on the 33-year-old father of two is believed to have been used by the IRA as an opportunity to clean the scene of forensic evidence.

Seventy-one witnesses also told police that they were in the toilet of the bar at the time of the murder, and the victim's sisters and fiance were all forced to leave their homes in the nationalist district of Short Strand over the following months because of intimidation by republicans.

Mr McCartney is one of more than 100 people who have been murdered by paramiltaries since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Others include Sunday World reporter Martin O'Hagan, shot in 2001 for exposing loyalist drug dealing.

"The proposals fail to explain the rationale for the cut-off date," Ms McCartney said. "Any attempt to justify it on the grounds that it was when the conflict legally ended is weak and an insult to those who continued to suffer as a consequence of the reality of continuing violence."

She added: "What is particularly galling is that all the five parties claim to have supported families like mine over the years yet haven't muted a word of recognition for this blatant omission. In omitting the victims post '98, the Haass proposals and the parties have succeeding in achieving what republicans have been trying to do for years, brush the murder of innocent men such as Robert and Paul under the carpet. This is the ultimate betrayal of the victims."

Irish Independent

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