Richard Haass warns of return to violence in Northern Ireland

Former US diplomat Richard Haass has warned of a return to serious violence in Northern Ireland if contentious issues are not resolved.

The former US diplomat who was charged with seeking agreement on how to address contentious issues in Northern Ireland on dealing with the past, parades and flags has warned of a return to serious violence if the issues cannot be resolved.

Providing an update to a Congressional committee in Washington on developments in Northern Ireland, Richard Haass has called on all those politicians involved to “act for the greater good” and accept that they will not get everything they want.

Warning of the dangers of a potential return to violence if the outstanding issues from the talks which collapsed on New Year’s Eve aren’t addressed, he went on to tell the committee:

“I don’t see the society sowing the seeds of its own normalisation, of its own unity, if neighbourhoods and schools are still divided.

“What worries me in that kind of an environment, particularly where politics are not shown to be making progress, alienation will continue to fester and violence, I fear, could very well re-emerge as a characteristic of daily life.

“So it is premature to put Northern Ireland, as much as we would like to, into the ‘out box’ of problems solved.

“I’d love for it to be there and I look forward to that day, but quite honestly it is not there yet.”

Moving on to address issues related to the recent controversy surrounding apparent assurances given to so called ‘on the runs’ that they would be spared prosecution, Haass told the committee:

“In short, the letters did not offer amnesty.”

Following the decision by UUP leader Mike Nesbitt last week to withdraw his party from talks about outstanding issues from the Hass process in protest over the letters, Haass continued somewhat pointedly:

“I know of nothing in their content that would justify anyone walking away from the process we are discussing here today.”

In issuing a rallying call meanwhile to all political leaders to step up to the plate, he concluded:

“The passage of time will not heal Northern Ireland’s society. To the contrary, absent of political progress, the passage of time will only create an environment in which social division intensifies, violence increases, investment is scared off, alienation grows and the most talented depart.

“Northern Ireland is often cited as a model of peace building, but this is premature. Yes, the society has come a long way from where it was two decades ago, but it still has a long ways to go before it sets an example others will want to emulate.

“I hope Northern Ireland’s leaders are up to the challenge.”

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