Northern Ireland political parties are at a standstill. The Ulster talks began in July, with past U.S. diplomat, Dr. Richard Haass at the helm of the meetings between five political groups. As an Irish diplomat between 2001 and 2003, Dr. Haass has optimistic hopes for the talks, since the basic conditions have been discussed. There are only subtle changes to be made in the language and priorities of the agreement. The expiration for the talks is today, however, Dr. Haass is certain that further talks will be taken up in the near future.
Prime Minister, David Cameron urged the group to come to an understanding soon, and not to table discussions about Northern Ireland’s future between the five parties. Cameron believes that the process should continue forward for the sake of Northern Ireland’s future.
The five political parties are Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist party, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Social Democrat and Labor Party (SDLP), Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), and Alliance Party. The issues that each have been pouring over are flags, parades and how to resolve lingering tension over the past “Troubles” between party members.
The Troubles is the common name for the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that spilled over at various times into the Republic of Ireland, England and mainland Europe. The conflict has occurred over more than 30 years between unionists and nationalists. Unionist and loyalists see themselves as being Irish, nationalists and Republicans as being British.
In 1998, a “Good Friday” agreement was signed in Belfast, which ended in peace for the most part. During the Troubles, more than 3,500 people were killed due to these parties differences. Part of the talks include discussions on how to deal with this fact.
Scuffles during political parades and provocation when different groups display their flags, leading to violence, has also been a part of the Haass talks. Northern Ireland’s political parties have been brought to a standstill, since some of the attendees do not agree with the language that Dr. Haass has used in the agreement.
The DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson said that while the “broad architecture” of the agreement was acceptable, some of the wording was not what he would have chosen to use. Other groups were not impressed with the priorities of the talks. Sinn Fein, with some reservations, were ready to agree to the bullet points of the discussion.
Northern Ireland is still concerned with peaceful progress in these conversations. Labor’s Ivan Lewis said that it was deeply disappointing that the talks failed to come to a final agreement. He said, ” However, significant common ground has been identified which should be the basis for future progress.”
Dr. Haass has high expectations for talks to continue and for an agreement to be smoothed out.
While religion takes a prominent position in the disagreements between parties, the leaders of the Catholic and Protestant groups are now more concerned with how to live peaceably side by side in Northern Ireland. Past problems presented themselves because the Catholic citizens were discriminated against by loyalist Protestants. The official religion of Britain is Protestantism and Ireland’s is Catholicism. Northern Ireland political parties are at a standstill at this point, but a basis for agreement has been established.
By Lisa M Pickering