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Assembly motion on parades to call for tolerance, restraint

By Noel McAdam

The Assembly is today attempting to cool temperatures at key flashpoints as the main phase of the marching season gets under way.

The Stormont parties are set to back a motion urging participants, protesters and spectators to demonstrate "restraint and tolerance" over contested parades in the weeks ahead.

The debate – on the last day of the Assembly term – comes on the eve of a renewed attempt by the parties to resolve the three Haass talks issues of parades, flags and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

And the debate is likely to coincide with Parades Commission decisions over a number of demonstrations which carry the potential for serious disorder.

Loyalists in particular are thought to be preparing to test the resolve of new PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton.

The Ulster Unionist motion says respect for people of "differing opinions" is essential in the absence of a formal agreement on a new way forward on contested parades and associated protests.

Party leader Mike Nesbitt is to argue that everyone involved in the parades "whether participants, spectators or protesters demonstrate respect, restraint and tolerance".

It comes after the party urged that the upcoming round of talks involving the five main parties to focus on finding a resolution to the stalemate on parades.

Former leader Tom Elliott reiterated the party's view that the issue of parades and protests should be decoupled from flags and dealing with the past.

"Surely it would be positive for the public to see us reach agreement on parades and protests before the summer, rather than the five parties continuing to remain stuck on the three issues," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said.

Today's motion comes a year after the five main party leaders issued a joint statement calling on all those with any influence to "work to ensure a peaceful parading season" following a briefing by the then Chief Constable Matt Baggott.

At that point the parties had already begun discussions which would lead to the intensive negotiations over Christmas chaired by American diplomat Richard Haass and Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan, which collapsed without agreement on New Year's Eve.

But now the British and Irish Governments, and President Obama's administration in Washington, has stepped up the pressure on the parties to reach a compromise in the renewed negotiations.

Belfast Telegraph


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