Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Parade poll's united message

This week the Belfast Telegraph is publishing the results of an important series of opinion polls which chart the current thinking among people about some of the most controversial issues facing our society.

The findings are being published at a significant milestone, in the week that Dr Richard Haass begins his talks with the local leaders in an attempt to chart the way to a lasting solution to our current problems.

On the particularly divisive subject of marches, there is a strong message from the polls from those who believe that members of the Orange Order cannot march just where or when they want to do so.

A significant number of people believe that the Orange Order must either abide by the determinations of the Parades Commission or reach local agreement.

The polls also show that local opinion is divided on the flying of the Union flag.

A third of Protestants want the flag to fly all the year round, while a third of Catholics back the flying of the flag on designated days only.

The main result of a third poll is a predictable and widespread dissatisfaction over the performance of the politicians at Stormont.

Overall the poll findings provide some fresh and important guidelines and lessons for Dr Haass as he begins his difficult task.

He might be able to ride the current tide of public opinion to coerce the Orange Order into accepting that they cannot always get what they want, and to underline that the Parades Commission enjoys more support than the politicians realise.

The flags issue may prove more difficult to solve, because there is a fear – justified or not – among so many Protestants that their British culture is being eroded.

However there is a strongly-held view on all sides that Stormont is not doing enough.

People expect it to grasp the nettle on the main issues of contention.

There is also an expectation that the politicians should tackle these issues in a more mature way, without resorting to the "whataboutery" which has paralysed decision-making here for so long.

Dr Richard Haass can only do so much, and it would be wrong to ask him to make the big decisions for us, even if he could.

In the end it is the challenge for our local leaders to broker a settlement on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland.

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