Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

The Twelfth: Temporary respite, but definitive answer still needed

Proud: New PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton

What a difference a year made - this Twelfth marching day compared with last.

The numbers of police may have been the same, but the whole mood and deployment was different.

This time, the stage was managed and that needed considerable work within the Protestant unionist loyalist community.

That "responsible leadership" was acknowledged by the new Chief Constable George Hamilton.

The Woodvale police line on Saturday was a metal barrier stretched across the road – the "preferred option" described in this newspaper a few days ago, and the much softer image of officers in yellow jackets.

Nearby, the PSNI had all the numbers and policing bits and pieces that would be needed if things had been different.

But there was no suggestion that any of that was going to be needed – indeed no concern in the voices of those senior officers on the ground on Saturday.

The steps that had been outlined beforehand were followed. There was none of the toe-to-toe violence of the last Twelfth. On the eve of Saturday's big marching day, PUP leader Billy Hutchinson told me: "I'm not counting my chickens... the only way to win this battle is to do it without violence," he said.

And, yesterday, a senior unionist politician commented: "It has worked for now."

A breathing space has been created for a political approach to see what the "graduated response" initiative can achieve or not achieve. There were suggestions at the weekend that there would be a meeting between unionist leaders and the Secretary of State, not this week but next.

North Down Twelfth demonstration in Newtownards.  Amy and Charlie Que with Molly Jupp from Holywood. Pic Picture by Darren Kidd / Press Eye
North Down Twelfth demonstration in Newtownards. Amy and Charlie Que with Molly Jupp from Holywood. Pic Picture by Darren Kidd / Press Eye
Orange Order parades pictured marching through Belfast on July 12, 2014. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Orange Order parades pictured marching through Belfast on July 12, 2014. Photo: Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
New PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton talks to officers at the Twaddell Avenue interface at Ardoyne, north Belfast this morning. Phtograph by Kelvin Boyes/Presseye
New PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton talks to officers at the Twaddell Avenue interface at Ardoyne, north Belfast this morning. Phtograph by Kelvin Boyes/Presseye

But what if that response changes nothing in terms of a ruling that has seen that parade in north Belfast marching on the spot for more than a year now?

Solo run initiatives don't work.

This needs an agreement across the communities.

And, at the weekend, one of the Ardoyne groups – the Greater Ardoyne Residents Committee – was still arguing that "the alternative route is there" and that the cost of upgrading it would be "minimal compared to the security operation".

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly acknowledged a lot of work had gone in to keeping things quiet but, in terms of finding an answer, he was clear.

"It's up to the politicians and the parties to get back to the table," he said.

On Saturday night, the Chief Constable tweeted: "Proud of the officers of PSNI & grateful for responsible behaviour (largely) of those involved in parades and protests."

But he knows the policing money and effort is needed for other things. These days like Saturday can't go on forever. Something has to change.

This week the focus will switch to the on-the-runs controversy and then it will be back to parading, flags and the past.

These issues are the unfinished business – and the unanswered questions.

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