Belfast Telegraph

Hamilton calls for deal on parades

Northern Ireland's new chief constable has expressed hope that a political agreement can be reached to ensure the region's often volatile marching season passes off peacefully.

George Hamilton has taken up the post only days before talks to find a breakthrough to long standing disputes over parades, flags and the legacy of the past resume in earnest at Stormont.

Delegations from the five parties in the power sharing executive will convene at Parliament Buildings on Wednesday for the start of a three day session of intensive negotiations in a bid to achieve some degree of progress before the biggest day of the loyal order parading calendar on July 12.

In recent years serious rioting has broken out in north Belfast linked to a contentious Orange Order parade on short stretch of road adjacent to a nationalist neighbourhood.

As the talks, which will be facilitated by a senior civil servant, begin in Belfast on Wednesday, in London Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will meet Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street.

Afterwards Mr McGuinness and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams will have a separate meeting with Mr Cameron - an encounter that comes after criticism from the republican party that the Prime Minister has not met with them bilaterally since coming to office, yet has held individual talks with Mr Robinson's Democratic Unionists on a number of occasions.

Co Down-born Mr Hamilton, who has succeeded Matt Baggott in the PSNI's top job, said he would not "second guess" the outcome of the talks at Stormont but said he hoped progress would be made.

"A lot of the solutions we need - the fixes around the past, parades, flags and all the rest of it - are actually political issues but of course they reach into policing and as police officers we have to deal with the consequences of decisions those politicians make," he said.

"So I think it is positive that these talks are happening. I would encourage the politicians to do their best to get to some form of resolution. That may involve some sort of compromise, that is a matter for them to negotiate and to facilitate between themselves, but they can be sure of this - where that conversation reaches into policing, we will be at the table and we will be there to support them in the difficult decisions and judgments that they need to come to.

"Not that we will be doing the politics, but where our conversations may assist them in coming to political decisions then we want to engage with politicians , as we do with communities, to make Northern Ireland a safer, more confident and peaceful society."

The renewed talks bid comes six months after marathon negotiations chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass ended without agreement.

While draft proposals outlined by Dr Haass remain on the table, with the party leaders having met periodically to discuss the outstanding issues since January, efforts to strike a deal in his absence have made little progress.

Noting the hundreds of people who ended up with criminal records for rioting offences in recent years, Mr Hamilton stressed the importance of a peaceful marching season.

"We don't want to be giving young people criminal records, we don't want to turn the marching, the parading season into something that is going to add conflict and tension in our communities," he said.

"We would far rather prefer there was a way found through all of this that meant that there was no violence, no disorder and that people acted within the law."

Mr Hamilton's first engagement in post was at a seminar and discussion panel event at a community-based restorative justice project in west Belfast.

He later met members of the PSNI's oversight body, the Policing Board, at its Belfast headquarters.

Board chairwoman Anne Connolly said his appointment was "very significant".

"We have got a new leader in the PSNI and I think he has shown where his priorities lie in the fact his very first engagement was to visit a community-related project this morning," she said.

"I think that shows George is really going to try to move things in that direction.

"We find he is very much a people person. He and I have had quite a few discussions already about how we might change the way we communicate, the way we receive information, and I have no doubt it will be a very good working relationship. We won't always agree on everything but I think it's a new way forward and it is very, very important for Northern Ireland that we do move forward today."

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