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Cardiff talks made crucial progress

It may be tempting for some people to dismiss the Cardiff talks between the police, republicans, loyalists and politicians because they appear not to have achieved a great deal.

That would be a mis-reading of the situation. The very fact that such a wide group of people from different backgrounds bothered to go to a neutral venue like Cardiff for an "open and frank conversation" is a positive development.

The delegates re-affirmed support for the PSNI, the Policing Board and the Ombudsman. This backing for the representatives of those who uphold the rule of law is welcome in a society where the police are too often caught in the middle.

Significantly, however, the vexed questions of flags, interfaces and parades were not on the agenda. This was a pity because these issues cause so much trouble every year.

It is important that these talks will be ongoing within Northern Ireland, and that the relationships developed in Cardiff will be continued. Some people will point out that many of the participants are well-known to one another already, and might ask what is the point of these people meeting again and again.

However, these structured talks have a clear agenda which was summarised by Gerry Kelly who said: "This is about policing with the community, and the relationship between the police and the community."

Some important points have been agreed already. The PSNI has undertaken to explain in advance the general principles by which major public events will be policed. It was also agreed by all the participants at Cardiff "that lines of communication – political, community and policing – will be open at all times, especially during critical periods of high tension in our community".

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Northern Ireland cannot afford further trouble on the streets, and the Cardiff dialogue and its aftermath may prove to be steps in the right direction. Realistically, however, much still remains to be done.

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