Belfast Telegraph

Public don't want politics dominated by Orange march

By Liam Clarke

Our poll today carries sharp messages for the politicians and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers as pre-talks negotiations continue. It is clear that people don't want parading difficulties in north Belfast to dominate politics as they have.

The community, even in Belfast, is simply not as entrenched on this issue as some politicians on both sides would have us believe.

When respondents were given four options to choose between this idea of a separate inquiry, first put forward by this newspaper, was chosen by 41.6% of people who expressed an opinion. Another 15.9% felt the decision should simply be left for the Parades Commission next year.

That gives a total of 57.5% for some form of adjudication or mediation. In contrast, just over a quarter buy into each of the more confrontational options. These are that the parade should be let through (21.7%) or that it should be stopped (20.8%).

In the end the Parades Commission must take the decision. It would be impossible to replace it before next July and it would be reckless to undermine its authority. Yet as the commission argued in its most recent determination on Ardoyne it would be foolish to simply let things fester until then.

Opinion favours an inquiry with the power to sample opinion and present a chairman's report setting out possible solutions to the dispute. That could insulate the wider talks process from this incendiary issue. Unionists walked out of vital talks on flags, parading and the past over the Ardoyne dispute. Setting up a separate process offers them the cover necessary to return again as nationalists and the two governments urge. They need to trust the process without issuing ultimatums.

Our questions on welfare reform show divided opinion but the largest single section of the population favours implementing the reforms with the opt-outs already negotiated. In her speech yesterday, Ms Villiers specifically links welfare to the devolution of corporation tax, which the Executive parties are demanding with one voice. "It is hard to see how the Executive could fund a corporation tax cut as well as meeting mounting bills to run a more expensive welfare system," she states.

The Maze site, the most important development location in Northern Ireland, is now lying fallow because of a wrangle over the proposed Peace and Reconciliation Centre. Opinion is polarised on the issue and politicians need to give it a lead instead of playing to popular prejudice. Undeniably these aren't simple decisions to make, especially with an election next May, but politicians are being well paid to take difficult choices.

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