Sunday 18 March 2018

Violence in North scares off investors – US envoy

Fionnan Sheahan Group Political Editor

NORTHERN Ireland has been warned by a US envoy that continued violence "scares off" investment.

Dr Richard Haass is back chairing talks in the North on resolving outstanding issues in the peace process.

Following a meeting with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, the former White House envoy condemned the sending of letter bombs over the past week.

"Northern Ireland is competing with every other square inch on the planet to attract investment," he said.

"And this is the sort of thing that honestly scares it off. It sends a bad message and hurts all the people in Northern Ireland. Nobody benefits."

Dr Haass said he would not be drawn into controversy on individual matters as flag protesters organising a mass demonstration were urged to think again.

"I'm not going to get involved with this or that pending political activity. I've got enough on my plate," he said.

"There are mechanisms for dealing with these things. I think there's an understanding that the current situation dealing with all the issues we've talked about – the past, flags, parading and marching – is in certain ways inadequate or less than optimal."

Dr Haass said his focus was on finding a way to improve how those issues are dealt with and not on decisions on individual activities. He made his remarks after holding talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Mr Gilmore.

The envoy would not comment on the specific loyalist rally planned for one of the busiest shopping days in the run-up to Christmas on November 30, despite calls from Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers for protesters to think again.

The demonstrators hope 10,000 people will march, sparking fears of disruption which cost the local economy millions in similar flag disputes last year.

But Dr Haass said: "Just to be clear about my role here, I don't have operational responsibility for what happens in Northern Ireland now.


"I will not have operational responsibility for what will happen.

"What I have is a responsibility to work with political leadership, about trying to resolve some of the lingering divisive issues."

Dr Haass insisted that the purpose of the peace talks was to work on a "macro level" rather than a "micro level".

He arrived in Belfast earlier this week for his second visit aimed at forging agreement on three of the most long-standing disputes facing the power-sharing administration at Stormont.

He said on arrival that he was optimistic that a mood for compromise was emerging and that he sensed people were ready to move on.

Irish Independent

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