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Vernon Coaker MP, Labour's Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, has said that the Government must be involved in the forthcoming Haass talks. Speaking to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee at Stormont today, he said:

"It has been a difficult few months, and confidence in the ability of politicians to work together to solve some of the problems around parading, flags, tackling sectarianism and dealing with the past has been shaken. But we must keep focused and united in trying to find a way forward.

"The Haass talks offer an opportunity to make progress on very difficult and sensitive issues.

"That is why I think the Westminster Government should be fully involved. The Secretary of State thinks the only role the Government should have is to approve anything agreed between the parties at the Haass talks, effectively placing preconditions on the outcome. I think that's the wrong way approach.

"My view is that there should be no constraints or parameters placed on the frank dialogue needed, beyond the terms of reference that have already been agreed. If anything I think the scope could be extended, and I would urge engagement with and in communities right across Northern Ireland so that the voices of ordinary people are heard too.

"We have made progress in Northern Ireland when both governments work with the political parties and civic society. Now is not the time to walk away. The Secretary of State needs to meet her responsibilities and get involved."

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