Private NI parades talks in Wales

Private NI parades talks in Wales

Northern Ireland politicians are to be invited to private talks in Cardiff next week, in a new attempt to ease sectarian tensions on the streets of Belfast.

Police have confirmed that meetings will take place next weekend.

Members of the region's main political parties have been asked to attend, as well as community and church representatives, University of Ulster academics, and members of the PUP.

Security chiefs are increasingly worried about the prospect of further violence in the coming months, linked to disputed parades close to loyalist and nationalist interface areas.

Serious trouble erupted in Belfast over Christmas and the New Year after the city council's decision to restrict the flying of the Union flags to designated days.

Journalist and author Brian Rowan said it is hoped the talks would bring people together.

"Not in a negotiation, but in what was supposed to be an off-stage and away from here discussion," he explained.

It's being described to me as a stock-taking exercise, trying to establish lines of communication and talking about the difficulties that still exist around parading and policing, and other issues.

Brian Rowan

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said they would be meeting with key stakeholders in Cardiff to discuss a range of issues in relation to policing in Belfast.

A statement added: "The attendee list has not yet been finalised.

"As a police service, we believe it is important that we listen to the views expressed by our stakeholders and the community. We also want to ensure constructive lines of engagement are established and remain open."

But as news of the talks hit the headlines, Rowan said there are fears it could frighten some people away.

He added: "One concern expressed to me by one source is that it could become a media circus and that those talking in private now will be happening in a fishbowl."

A spokesman for the Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, confirmed they had been invited to attend, but have yet to make a decision.

The spokesperson said: "There is a lot of scepticism about what can be achieved in such a short space of time, but it is better than doing nothing. Therefore, I think the space needs to be given for the initiative to take place."

Earlier this year, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said senior members of the UVF, acting as individuals, had been increasingly orchestrating the violence which followed flag protests in east Belfast.

Elsewhere, First Minister Peter Robinson and the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also announced the setting up of an all-party working group with an independent chairman to discuss flags, parades and how to deal with Northern Ireland's past.

© UTV

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