Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Mood on streets remains ugly, but US diplomat Richard Haass offers hope

Richard Haass was US envoy to Northern Ireland in 2001-03 during George Bush's tenure as president
Richard Haass was US envoy to Northern Ireland in 2001-03 during George Bush's tenure as president
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds was knocked out during the loyalist riots that have hit his constituency. Sunday July 14, 2013.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds was knocked out during the loyalist riots that have hit his constituency. Sunday July 14, 2013.

You don't have to scratch the surface to find the mood and to understand the dangers in Belfast's latest street play.

It is heard in the angry words of another blame game, seen in the numbers standing on the corners and across the roads.

You can count the damage in the injuries and arrests and in the lines of riot police officers.

I watched it at Woodvale, saw Land Rovers in the Village area on Monday evening and, passing on the train, saw that security operation at Newtownards Road and Short Strand.

There are parts of this city that are living in anything but normal or peaceful circumstances; places where people are at their wits' end with the constant noise of angry words, broken glass, bricks bouncing off helmets and shields, petrol bombs and, now, blast devices.

Loyalist Winston Irvine described a "dangerous environment" and "a clear escalation".

He said: "We are in danger of the situation spiralling out of control and someone could easily lose their life. People are angry that the Parades Commission chose to cave in to the threat of republican violence."

And on the street riots since, he said: "There's no orchestration and no organisation."

This is something the police will watch closely as violence happened and spread into areas where there is still clear and obvious paramilitary control.

On the decision to block the return leg of last Friday's feeder parade in north Belfast, Irvine said: "People, with their banners, are determined to complete the journey of the Twelfth of July parade."

The question is, how?

Pre-Twelfth and since there have been meetings of Orangemen, loyalists and unionist politicians, most recently in east Belfast on Monday.

Irvine was there, although he has not confirmed this. Also present was the UVF leader John Graham, as well as other paramilitary figures.

A source said the meeting assessed developments and discussed ways forward.

Inside the room the prospects of the Ligoniel lodges being able to complete their march was discussed and opinion was split.

There is talking but no big plan.

The police lines in that part of the city will not be breached and the Parades Commission shows no sign of bending.

On Twitter yesterday, the PUP deputy leader, councillor John Kyle, wrote: "An independent body which has completely lost the confidence of a half of its constituency is fatally wounded."

But there is no next bit. What replaces such a commission?

While there are contentious marches and protests, so there will be the need for a referee – a kind of Parades Commission II.

Meantime, the debate is about blame, not about what it is broken and how it is fixed.

This is what the US diplomat Richard Haass is arriving into, to address the questions of flags, parading and the past.

Those talks can't be confined to politicians. If so they won't work.

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