Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Courage needed to secure success

It is very clear from the comments of Dr Richard Haass in this newspaper today that the success or failure of the talks on the crucial issues of flags, the past and parades lies with Northern Ireland's political parties. He and his colleague, Meghan O'Sullivan, are facilitators in the process. They have fed in ideas, but agreement can only be reached by local politicians. And that is how it should be.

We have reached a juncture in our joint political process whereby it is time for all the parties here to show the courage and vision to make hard decisions. That is the price they pay for being given the honour of governing Northern Ireland. With the role comes responsibility and they can no longer blame either each other or outside parties for failure to make progress.

As Dr Haass says, compromise is essential when parties of very diverse views sit down to try to reach agreement on highly contentious issues.

Flags, for example, go to the very heart of identity in Northern Ireland. Perhaps we should not be so hung-up on symbols but the reality is that we are. And the divergent views are so polarised, it seems that no agreement is possible on this issue at this time.

The best hope is that whatever progress is made can lay the groundwork for the future.

On parades and dealing with the past, the challenges are no less, but there is more of a consensus on what needs to be achieved and potential mechanisms for doing so. Again it is about not only politicians, but also loyal orders and residents groups, showing the maturity to come to an accommodation on those relatively small numbers of contentious parades. It is clear that Dr Haass feels the annual game of blaming bodies like the Parades Commission for the intransigence of marchers or residents groups is puerile and that the adults of society must take responsibility for their own actions.

This is a great test for local politicians. It is their duty to succeed, for if they don't they will weaken the very structures they run and the peace they made sacrifices to secure.

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