Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland politicians challenged to seize the day

By Liam Clarke

'The prize on offer is great – a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland putting its divided past behind it and in which people of all traditions live and work together to build a genuinely shared future for everyone.

"Now is the time to grasp the opportunity to make real progress to achieving that end."

David Cameron's article in today's Belfast Telegraph is a clarion call to our political leaders, linking economic progress and government support to dealing with the poisoned legacy of division.

There are points of comfort for unionism. There is no mention of Richard Haass returning, something which neither unionist party would have bought into at this stage.

There is an assurance that the focus on dealing with the past will not be solely – or even mainly – be on state agencies.

In order to get nationalist buy-in he will need give Sinn Fein and the SDLP balancing assurances that issues – such as claims of collusion or the Ballymurphy massacre – will not be forgotten.

That being said, there is no reason to doubt that progress can be made on at least some of the Haass agenda.

Jeffrey Donaldson, one of the DUP negotiators in previous talks, expected them to resume next week. An Orangeman himself, he was optimistic on the question of parading.

"We need to make progress on a number of key issues in relation to parading.

"The dialogue continues but we are hopeful that we can achieve a broader consensus before July," he said.

He was also reasonably hopeful about the past. The framework here could be similar to the Haass talks with a process of investigation and, if families wanted it, of truth recovery. However, Mr Donaldson stressed that the state must investigate all Troubles-era offences and prosecute where possible. One problem on which he expected no agreement was the display of flags on civic buildings.

"It will be a matter for each council to come to a position on what they do with the flying of the flag. I don't think there will be any overall guidance given from the party leaders collectively," Mr Donaldson said.

That could lead to a depressing start for the 11 new councils. We can only hope that if progress can be made on parading, and the example of the Apprentice Boys is there, then other issues may become easier.

We badly need politicians to solve these differences, not exploit them.

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