WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says it is disappointed that peace talks in Northern Ireland have ended without an agreement.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden says the talks did represent progress and urged Northern Ireland's political leaders to continue to work together. She says continued dialogue can help the parties find a path forward to overcome sectarian divisions.
The talks broke down early Tuesday, with leaders failing to reach an accord on key issues including the use of flags and parades. Those issues are causes of continuing disputes between Protestants and Catholics.
Northern Ireland's political leaders have published a draft agreement on outstanding peace process issues only hours after parties in the executive failed to reach consensus on the proposals.
Under the deal ex paramilitaries and members of the security forces would have been given "limited immunity" from prosecution, if the parties had agreed to comprehensive agreement on the past, the flying of flags and controversial parades.
There would also have been a ban on loyalist and republican bands wearing paramilitary style uniforms as part of a new Code of Conduct on parading, it emerged on Tuesday night.
The Northern Ireland Office published the 38 page Haass document, named after the former US diplomat who chaired the talks over Christmas which failed to reach an agreement on issues still weighing over the peace process.
Among proposals included in the blueprint for progress was the establishment of a "Commission for Information Retrieval" - a body that would allow all forces responsible for deaths in the Troubles from the IRA to the British Army to give evidence in a truth commission style forum.
In order to encourage all sides in the armed conflict to come forward, Dr Haas proposed that any voluntary offer for information about atrocities, shoot-to-kill incidents and Troubles related violence would be given some immunity.
The document states: "We recognise that those who have information regarding conflict-related events may have legitimate concerns about coming forward. They may worry about criminal prosecution after implicating themselves or others in crimes, or retribution from those they implicate. And they may be anxious that, after decades of living quiet lives, their admission could lead their friends and families to dramatically re-evaluate their character.
"Given the importance of their information to the future of Northern Ireland, the body will therefore be empowered by law to offer 'inadmissibility' or 'limited immunity' in both civil and criminal courts to those providing information in connection with the incidents described.
"This policy renders statements given under such conditions inadmissible in court and protects an individual from self-incrimination. It is not, as we emphasised above, an amnesty in any form.
"Statements given under these conditions simply cannot be admitted as evidence against the person giving them or anyone named in those statements. They do not provide protection against prosecution or the pursuit of civil damages through evidence derived from other sources, or against prosecution for other acts. The ICIR would not accept any physical evidence or provide legal protection for such evidence."
In the section on controversial parades, the Code of Conduct would require marchers to ensure "a rejection of marks or music referring to proscribed organisations past or present" and there be "the avoidance of paramilitary-style clothing at all times during an event".
Many nationalists object to loyalist marching bands passing by their areas or by Catholic churches because they have open associations with paramilitary groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association.
On the vexed issue of flags and the restrictions of flying the Union Jack over Belfast City Hall, the authors of the Haass report admit they failed to reach any hard and fast consensus.
Regarding various ideas for breaking the flag issue, they said: "We reached no agreement on any of these proposals. Without a larger consensus on the place of Britishness and Irishness – for which there must be a special and protected place alongside other identities, national or otherwise, represented within our society – we could not reach a common position on the flying of flags and the display of other emblems, which are in fact manifestations of these identities."
Amnesty International challenged Northern Ireland's five main parties on Tuesday to publish the part of any agreement that would have created a new mechanism to investigate all unsolved crimes and human rights abuses during the Troubles.
As the inquest began into how the talks chaired by ex-US diplomats Haass and Professor Meghan O'Sullivan failed to reach a deal, the global human rights organisation said the parties should at least make public their ideas for dealing with three and a half decades of armed conflict.
The main unionist and nationalist parties along with the centrist Alliance Party worked through Monday night and the early hours of Tuesday to try to hammer out a settlement that would deal with the outstanding controversies overhanging the peace process.
Haass and O'Sullivan were asked back in July by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness – Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers – to chair talks aimed at solving the issues of flying flags, controversial parades and the violent past. The Americans criss-crossed the Atlantic twice between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve in order to chair the talks in two Belfast hotels. But they will fly back to the US empty handed with the discussions failing to reach a successful conclusion.
Amnesty International warned that the opportunity to deal with Northern Ireland's past should not be squandered by failure to reach an agreement on flags and parades.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty's director in Northern Ireland said: "What progress has been achieved by the parties, and the Haass team, towards agreeing a new approach to the past must not be squandered or obscured by disagreement on other issues.
"The parties should now publish the draft proposals on dealing with the past, clarify where areas of disagreement still exist and give victims and the wider public a chance to respond. Then the politicians should get back round a talks table and not get up again until they have reached agreement."
Amid the acrimony over the talks breaking up with out a deal, Northern Ireland's Justice Minister David Ford accused the Democratic Unionists and the Ulster Unionists of pandering to loyalist extremists over the issue of flags and parades. He said they appeared more concern with extremists standing against them in local and European elections this year.
Ford claimed the unionist parties objected to the creation of a new Code of Conduct for those taking part in traditional marches, the majority of which are organised by the Orange Order and other loyalist institutions.