Hopes for executive parties' commitment to peaceful parading season

John Manley Political Reporter

THERE was hope last night that the Stormont executive parties will sign up to a joint statement appealing for a peaceful parading season.

A form of words has been circulating at Stormont since late last week and although at least one party is said to have amended the original draft, sources are optimistic that a statement can be agreed.

In calling for all-party support, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the draft acknowledged the efforts made around contentious parades by community leaders and police.

"The statement calls for further dialogue and local agreement in areas with unresolved parading issues and affirms that violence is not acceptable or inevitable," he said.

The assembly will today debate an Ulster Unionist motion calling for those involved in both parades and protests against contentious marches to show "respect, restraint and tolerance".

A delegation of representatives from unionism's main parties is expected to meet the Parades Commission for the second time in a week.

Today's debate and expected meeting take place on the eve of the revised all-party talks process on parades, flags and the past.

The first of two three-day round-table sessions will commence at Stormont tomorrow morning and are expected to last all day.

In the absence of a chair, the talks will be facilitated by Department of Education permanent secretary Paul Sweeney.

Business leaders yesterday urged the five parties to resolve the peace process's outstanding contentious issues "once and for all".

Yet despite a degree of opti

mism over parading, there is concern that the talks agenda could prove an early stumbling block.

Unionists appear keen to press ahead with finding a resolution to parading while parking discussions on the past until after Lady Justice Hallett produces her report into the on-the-runs scheme in just over two weeks.

However, Sinn Fein, Alliance and the SDLP are reluctant to 'decouple' the three issues, believing the past, parades and flags are interlinked.

There was no statement about the prospects for the talks from Stormont's two main parties last night but

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said his party wanted a "comprehensive and conclusive" process.

The South Belfast MP and MLA also stressed the need for full engagement from the British and Irish governments.

"The SDLP has been very clear with the other parties and officials that the two governments need to be in the room as it is the two governments who will have operational, material and legislative responsibility for the implementation of the outcomes of the talks," he said.

"The authority and resources of the two governments

will be particularly required if solutions on dealing with the past are to be fully implemented."

Alliance leader David Ford highlighted the need for all the issues to be addressed together.

"The discussions on parading are not about this summer's marching season, but about changing the legislation for future years," he said.

"If parties want to change the dynamics around parading this year, then they can do so by supporting the lawful determinations of the existing Parades Commission and the PSNI as they seek to uphold them."


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