Former US envoy flies in to chair talks

John Manley Political Reporter

THE chairman of the new Stormont all-party group to deal with the vexed issues of flags, parades and the past flies into the north today.

Richard Haass, a former US envoy to Northern Ireland, will begin his task by meeting First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Dr Haass, who was US envoy to the north between 2001 and 2003, will also meet party leaders with the aim of agreeing a work plan and terms of reference for the talks, scheduled to begin in September.

It is hoped that the group will deliver recommendations by the end of the year.

US vice-president Joe Biden welcomed its launch.

Mr Biden spoke to the first minister and deputy first minister on Monday.

He expressed "deep concern" at parade-related violence and attacks on police, a statement from the White House read.

Mr Biden supported calls for calm and respect for the rule of law. He also spoke to Dr Haass and pledged "the full support of the United States and his personal support in this vital effort".

The statement said Mr Biden and the US, British and Irish governments would stay in close contact with Dr Haass during the "crucial work of healing the divisions of the past and building a truly shared future".

"As the president said in Belfast in June, the people and institutions of Northern Ireland should be commended for the tremendous progress since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement," it read.

"However, more work remains -- tackling sensitive issues is essential to creating a lasting peace and assuring the road to prosperity for all in Northern Ireland."

The statement said creating the basis for a shared future would require "political courage, creativity and compromise" from all parties.

n new role: Richard Haass


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