Talking and events

Published Monday, 30 June 2014
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This could be one of those weeks that sets a test for politics and policing.

On Wednesday a new round of all-party talks will begin at Parliament Buildings, the next page turn after Haass/O'Sullivan - and the next attempt to get something done on flags, parades and the past.

Paul Sweeney, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education, is the talks facilitator.

The DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance will be at the table and, if needed, expert witnesses will be available to the parties in an advisory role.

That list includes the Attorney General, the Chief Constable, NIO and Dublin officials.

Wednesday will begin in plenary session and with opening statements.

But this week is not just about the Stormont talks, but other events.

Yes, events.

"Outside decisions will come into the room," one of the talks delegates commented - meaning, of course, the decisions of the Parades Commission.

The one that really matters is the ruling on the Twelfth north Belfast parade - and what happens there will define the summer marching season.

Recently, a senior unionist delegation has been involved in a round of meetings with the Parades Commission, the new PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton and Secretary of State Theresa Villiers.

And, at another level, Catholic and Church of Ireland Bishops Donal McKeown and Alan Abernethy have been making a last attempt to explore any possibility of a local agreement.

One source put the prospects of that at five percent or lower.

And, so, it looks like a decision for the Commission and then a policing response and operation on the ground.

In the waiting, there has been plenty of talk - not from the Parades Commission, but about the Commission.

It's the talk that I described recently on this Blog; that it is feeling the summer heat of decision-making, that it is under pressure and, that in recent days, there might even have been a wobble.

The July build-up can do that, can unnerve people.

It is all part of the pressures that attach to these rulings.

Everyone wants their say, has their opinion, but the decision-making is for the five-person Commission chaired by Anne Henderson.

At this time, there is no sign of a political or local agreement that will help.

You can feel the tension - hear it in the word fights that are playing out on radio and television.

And, the ruling when it is made, will not just be about a parade and that contested stretch of road in north Belfast,

The latest round of all-party talks will come in two phases - stretching from July 2-4 and then 8-10.

And the Parades Commission decision will determine the mood within that dialogue.

If the decision is the same as last year, can the talks survive?

"Whatever decisions are taken elsewhere we cannot give up on concluding Haass/O'Sullivan," Alex Attwood of the SDLP commented.

But he, like others, will know the reality of this time of year and the impact decisions can have.

We still don't know the ruling of the Commission, but it is expected later this week coinciding with the planned talks.

That senior unionist/loyalist delegation including Peter Robinson, Jim Allister and Mike Nesbitt with PUP and UPRG representatives met members of the Commission on 18 June.

And it was after that meeting that there was talk of a wobble.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the Parades Commission gave it [the 12 July march ruling] to the Secretary of State," one unionist suggested.

Another source accused unionists of playing mind games with the Commission.

But, days ago, things had settled.

And any suggestion that the Commission could abdicate responsibility on the parade determination was firmly dismissed.

This may well be the calm before the next storm.

The decision has still to be made - and then the story and the pressure really begins.

© UTV News
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Brian Rowan
Brian Rowan

Brian Rowan is a journalist, author and broadcaster who has reported on the major peace process developments - from ceasefires to political agreements.

Four times he has been a category winner in the Northern Ireland Journalist of the Year awards.

He is the author of four books and a regular commentator on UTV.

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