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Talks in Northern Ireland on political violence end with no resolution

Dec. 31, 2013 at 3:02 PM   |   Comments

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Marathon talks in Northern Ireland on issues such as sectarian parades and national flags ended early Tuesday with no agreement, officials said.

Richard Haass, who served as special U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland under President George W. Bush and returned to the process recently at the request of the provincial government, said he believes progress has been made, the Irish Times reported, though the Obama administration later expressed disappointment. Haass presided over lengthy discussions that lasted through the weekend and were ended shortly before 6 a.m. Tuesday.

"Success should not be measured by what we report to you tonight or what the party leaders report tonight -- I would ask you to judge the success in six months, in a year, 18 months, in two years, that would give a much more realistic definition or yardstick of what constitutes success," Haass said at a news conference before his departure. "What I believe what we have done is laid down solid enough foundation stones."

The Obama administration called on the parties involved to keep working toward an agreement.

"We are disappointed that Northern Ireland's political leaders did not conclude an agreement today," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement released by the White House.

"We believe that the draft text produced through the All-Party process represents real progress and makes a valuable contribution.

"We urge Northern Ireland's political leaders to continue to work together to build on this progress, including implementing the proposals where consensus already exists and as it emerges in all three areas: parades, flags and emblems, and contending with the legacy of the past."

The prime ministers of Ireland and Britain, Enda Kenny and David Cameron, both said they were disappointed by the failure to reach agreement, as well.

There has been a recent uptick in political violence in the form of demonstrations and riots by Protestant loyalists and bombings and shootings by dissident Republicans. The cycle began in December 2012 when the Belfast City Council approved a law limiting the number of days the British flag would be flown at City Hall.

During the summer "marching season," when loyalists celebrate the anniversary of the Protestant victory at the 17th-century Battle of the Boyne, a loyalist parade was rerouted, setting off more demonstrations.

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