Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Ardoyne Twelfth parade: Once again, the line must hold

Looming street protests not the start, new PSNI chief constable wanted

Protesters face police at Twaddell Avenue last year

The political drama at Stormont was over in minutes yesterday - with the walkout from the talks explained in a two-page statement.

But it is the fine detail that really matters, especially as this summer play marches on to the most fragile of street stages.

What exactly is meant by a "graduated response"?

And who in this climate of hot collars can guarantee the cool, calm and peaceful steps that are being urged?

This is a policing matter now, a planning job that will be about numbers, positioning and trying to ensure proportionate responses.

And, once again, it will mean holding that line on the Woodvale Road on the most charged and volatile of parading days.

This is not Drumcree. Not an operation out in a field but, rather, a plan that has to fit into those tense interfaces of north Belfast, into those tight spots where the communities live cheek by jowl.

It will be another test for the officers on the ground, for the operational planners and for new Chief Constable George Hamilton, not even a week in post. The Parades Commission is the focus of unionist anger but, this time last year, we watched the crowd turn on the police.

The security operation that will be needed will be about big numbers and long hours – and the financial cost will be huge.

There is a contingency to call on mutual aid – officers from other UK forces – if needed, but this is not the immediate intention. It all depends on how much the police are stretched.

The stated intention is for peaceful protest but, at this time of year, the street can be a dangerous place – especially where marches and protests meet.

One stone, one wrong word, can change things.

The background beat before the commission announcement was one of doom and gloom.

The combined unionist leadership approach is being presented in the context of trying to manage a difficult situation and making sure there is no violence.

The talks at Stormont that came to a predictable end yesterday have shifted the focus.

It is no longer about high-politics but the street play.

And why was the Parades Commission left with yesterday's decision? Because there was no political or local agreement.

And why have the police to manage the fallout? Because there is no political or local agreement.

There is one thing certain when you leave the negotiating table.

That is you have to come back to it. But this vacuum creates a further danger; it heightens tension and makes the street situation all the more fragile.

This is not the start that George Hamilton would have wanted.