US government wants North talks resolution for St Patrick’s Day

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny shakes hands with the former US diplomat Richard Haass at Government Buildings.

The US government is putting real pressure on Northern Ireland’s politicians to sort out the flag row at the Haas talks before the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Former Northern Ireland special envoy Dr. Richard Haass recently chaired meetings between all sides in the North seeking resolution of outstanding issues. No agreement was reached, but back channel efforts are continuing.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has confirmed that the US authorities want a settlement in time to announce it at the White House festivities that will mark Ireland’s national day.

McGuinness told the Belfast Telegraph newspaper that agreement on flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles must be reached before Ulster’s politicians decamp to Washington.

Cross-party talks led by American envoy Dr Richard Haas have yet to reach agreement on the several issues, including the flag disputes and the legacy of the Troubles.

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister McGuinness said: “I’ll tell you what I think the American’s deadline is. This needs to be done before St Patrick’s Day.

“Every year we are invited to the White House to meet with the President. They’ve taken a huge interest. If politicians have any respect for themselves, if politicians have any respect for our community, we will do this - we will crack this - in the course of the coming days and weeks. Not months.”

McGuinness made his remarks after President Barack Obama engaged in a telephone discussion with British Prime Minister David Cameron which included the Northern Ireland talks on its agenda.

British government officials confirmed that the two leaders had agreed that the Haas talks process must be led by Northern Ireland’s own politicians, but added they also said they would help and encourage local leaders.

Cameron’s spokesman said, “Responsibility for finding a way forward continues to lie with political leaders in Northern Ireland, and the UK and US governments will continue to encourage this process.”

The report adds that the US government may now officially throw its weight behind the Haass talks in an effort to aid a resolution.