Peace talks begin in Belfast

All party crunch talks are due to begin in Northern Ireland today to try to seal a pre-Christmas agreement on controversial parades, flags and dealing with a troubled history.

Former US diplomat Richard Haass is chairing five-party discussions between politicians in Belfast.

He submitted his third draft set of proposals to them on Sunday and they will convene to discuss the paper today in an effort to secure a compromise.

On Friday Dr Haass said the only the day that mattered in the negotiations was the last day.

He added: “”We are getting close to what we call in America crunch time.“

Unionists have expressed concern, particularly about suggestions around flags, while Sinn Fein has pledged to negotiate right up to the festive break and all sides putting in long hours.

The talks are focused on agreeing a replacement for the Parades Commission to rule on contentious marches by unionists and nationalists and on an organisation to oversee dealing with the past, potentially one offering limited immunity from prosecution to those who cooperate – but not an amnesty.

A separate process may be recommended to try and find accord on flags.

Serious loyalist violence broke out a year ago after restrictions were imposed on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall.

This summer’s marching season sparked discord after a decision was taken to re-route a parade away from a tradition scene of yearly violence in North Belfast.

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