The British government has backed away from a pro-active role in dealing with the issues of flags, parades and the past in the north of Ireland despite the collapse of talks in Belfast.
The five-party process chaired by US envoy Richard Haass broke up on New Year’s Eve without agreement after four months of exchanges. Efforts to continue the talks following the departure of Haass and his colleague, Meghan O’Sullivan, have so far made little headway.
Both of the North’s nationalist parties have indicated that they would be willing to sign up to the US diplomat’s recommendations, but both unionist parties have now walked away from the proposals.
At the weekend, the 26-County Deputy Prime Minister, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, indicated that in event of no agreement between the parties, the Dublin and London governments would consider intervening.
But at Westminster yesterday, responding to a question from the DUP’s Nigel Dodds, British PM David Cameron expressed little interest.
He said the Haass proposals had provided “the architecture” for a future solution and he encouraged the parties in Ireland to continue their efforts.
“Let me reassure you, there is absolutely no question of an imposed solution,” he said.
“The proposal for the Haass discussions was the proposal of the Northern Ireland parties themselves.”
He said both governments were discussing the situation, but that was all.
“I think it is important to go on discussing this with the government of the Republic of Ireland,” he added, and even suggested the 26 County State was itself attempting to deal with the legacy of the conflict.
“They have taken steps themselves to come to terms with some of the things that happened in their past and I think if the parties work together and if the British and Irish governments are there to help, I hope we can make some progress,” he said.
Last weekend, Irish Labour Party Eamon Gilmore, the leader of the junior party in the coalition government, said there was an “urgency” about the process at the moment.
“We are agreed that this is something that both governments will work together on,” he said. “If necessary we will have to do that, but I hope that it will be possible that the political parties will be able to reach agreement among themselves.”
Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt described Mr Gilmore’s comments as being “not particularly helpful”, but Mr Nesbitt was himself criticised by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
“The Haass document is a compromise. It is not a republican script,” said Mr McGuinness.
“Mike Nesbitt claimed before the end of the talks that he was 80 or 90 per cent content with the text.
“I have some advice for Mr Nesbitt as someone who is new to these sorts of negotiations from someone who has been around them all -- if you have 80 or 90 per cent of what you want, close the deal.”
Mr McGuinness was speaking at a motivational meeting of Sinn Fein activists from across the north in Gulladuff, County Derry, at the weekend.
He also renewed his challenge to unionist leaders to stand up to loyalist elements.
Mr McGuinness angered unionists earlier this month when he claimed that unionist leaders had told him the Orange Order, PUP and UVF were “one and the same thing” in Belfast.
In response, First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson branded Mr McGuinness “a dictator.”
However, the senior Sinn Fein leader rejected Mr Robinson’s remarks, saying: “I have to say I don’t think anybody who knows me believes for one minute that I am a dictator of any sort, I haven’t got that sort of personality.”
Mr McGuinness also said he was standing by his remarks that the Orange Order in Belfast, particularly in north Belfast, had been “hijacked” by the paramilitary UVF.
“I am not going to back down from that and in fact the challenge really isn’t for me - the challenge is for those who are not prepared to publicly state what they know to be true themselves,” he said.