Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Haass talks provide a breathing space, don't let it become a vacuum

Richard Haass
Richard Haass

It is easy to understand why Terry Spence is calling for a parading/protesting moratorium.

As chairman of the Police Federation he represents those officers who, for months now, have been battered and bruised on the different front lines.

They've been there through the flag protests, the Twelfth and then in that downtown riot in Belfast.

But his call comes at the tail end of another controversial and confrontational marching season and with the Haass all-party talks initiative just around the corner.

"I don't think it makes sense," the Orange Order chaplain Mervyn Gibson said on the suggested moratorium.

"Who decides what's contentious?"

The senior Belfast republican Sean Murray, who was part of the pre-Twelfth talks with Orange Lodge representatives from north Belfast on the Ardoyne parade, also questioned the worth of any such move at this time.

"We've got space from September to mid-December for the Haass talks and that could create its own dynamic."

And it's that dialogue that people now seem to be waiting for, but what will it change?

"If an agreement is reached, we will be the first to congratulate everyone and happily facilitate any change," Parades Commission chairman Peter Osborne said. "I don't think anyone seriously suggests that the decision-making goes back to the police. So I suspect we are looking at options that will have many similarities to those that currently exist."

That means another marching and protesting referee – something that might have a different name but the same job.

And the Haass process can only work if people want it to work – all the different sides and interests in a parading and protesting play that has left not just police officers battered, but also the image of Belfast and the peace process itself.

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