Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Police hold thin blue line as we edge near the abyss

Royal Black Preceptory Parade passes St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street
Royal Black Preceptory Parade passes St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street

On Saturday evening I watched the now familiar policing build up – the lines of Land Rovers moving into position at that junction of Donegall Street, Carrick Hill, North Queen Street and Clifton Street.

Protesters in place and, a few hundred yards up the street, a crowd at the Orange hall waiting for the return of the Royal Black march. It was a long wait – much longer than expected.

The bells for mass at seven at St Patrick's church had faded before the parade came into sight.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness told me he believed the march had been "deliberately delayed... an act of provocation and a serious situation".

On my twitter account at the weekend I posted a picture of the security operation with the words: "Police out in big numbers, Parades Commission ignored, many leaders in hiding... no-one in charge."

And this is the story of the street.

The police numbers tell a story of insecurity.

It's about damage limitation, a waiting exercise in the hope that Dr Richard Haass can come up with something, and in that vacuum the 'cops' are left to hold the lines.

Some of those in that congested junction of north Belfast on Saturday wanted to complain to the PSNI, complain to me – to anyone who would listen.

But the real issue is one of community and political failure – a situation in which Stormont is seemingly without ideas or solutions.

Wednesday's meeting of what we refer to as the Cardiff Talks forum is already starting to sound like a blame game, a shouting match rather than a way forward.

And Dr Haass is coming not just with trouble on the street, but at the very heart of the Executive.

Before they talk to him, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness will have a conversation about the fallout over the Maze/Long Kesh peace centre.

The miracle of the street so far is that no-one has been killed, but this place continues to walk and march and parade and protest on the thinnest of lines.

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