Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Unionist parties have to show us all that they can offer leadership

Now that the holiday break is over, it is time for the political parties to resume work. And to do the best they can in the wake of the debacle following the Haass talks.

Because of the holiday period, this break-down did not have had the public impact it deserved. However, as we have pointed out, the apathy about the talks may be due partly to the disenchantment with politics in general and with our politicians in particular.

This week will present a special challenge to the DUP and the UUP – who must rise to meet it on behalf of all their supporters.

They must convince not only their followers, but everyone else, that a rump of vociferous loyalists and Orange members were not calling the shots when both unionist parties pulled the plug on the Haass talks last week.

It is suspected by many people that it was the Code of Conduct on parades which became the sticking point, and it is difficult to understand why.

In the lamentable absence of any sensible statement so far from either the DUP or the UUP, the suspicion arises that loyalists and Orange representatives would not tolerate a ban on "marks and music referring to proscribed organisations either past or present".

If this is true, it is inevitable that suspicions will arise that electoral considerations, where loyalist and Orange groups can deliver or withhold hundreds of votes, were the factors that over-rode anything else in the talks.

In other words, short-term gains may have been more important than the long-term future of Northern Ireland. However, we firmly believe that the overwhelming majority of unionist voters, and other people, want to see progress on these issues, and we need reassurances that the voices of the loyalist-Orange rump are not being heard disproportionately loudly.

In plain terms, we want to know that people like Willie Frazer and Jamie Bryson are not holding an influence that is completely beyond the logic of their argument.

If this is so, the political map is skewed, and decisive action is needed to return the situation to a more acceptable and workable perspective. For far too long, the Stormont politicians have been allowed to get away with achieving relatively little in practical terms, in the long and tortured search for a political settlement in Northern Ireland.

However, events in the past year have underlined the urgent need for a lasting agreement. In the absence of this we have had to endure prolonged street violence as well as extremely divisive parades in certain areas, and a hugely damaging series of demonstrations over the Union flag issue.

Whether the politicians realise it or not, the public is fed up with them sitting on their hands. This week will provide the opportunity for a new start for the politicians and particularly for the unionists to reassure us that they are serious about a lasting agreement for all the people of Northern Ireland.

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