Northern Ireland’s new chief constable has expressed hope that a political agreement can be reached to ensure the region’s often volatile marching season passes off peacefully.
George Hamilton has taken up the post only days before talks to find a breakthrough to long-standing disputes over parades, flags and the legacy of the past resume in earnest at Stormont.
Delegations from the five parties in the power-sharing Executive will convene at Parliament Buildings tomorrow for the start of a three-day session of intensive negotiations in a bid to achieve some degree of progress before July 12.
In recent years serious rioting has broken out in north Belfast linked to a contentious Orange Order parade on a short stretch of road adjacent to the nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood.
As the talks, which will be facilitated by a senior civil servant, begin in Belfast tomorrow, in London First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will meet Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street.
Afterwards Mr McGuinness and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams will have a separate meeting with Mr Cameron.
Co Down-born Mr Hamilton, who has succeeded Matt Baggott in the PSNI’s top job, said he would not “second guess” the outcome of the talks at Stormont but said he hoped progress would be made.
“A lot of the solutions we need – the fixes around the past, parades, flags and all the rest of it – are actually political issues but of course they reach into policing and as police officers we have to deal with the consequences of decisions those politicians make,” he said.
“So I think it is positive that these talks are happening. I would encourage the politicians to do their best to get to some form of resolution. That may involve some sort of compromise, that is a matter for them to negotiate and to facilitate between themselves, but they can be sure of this – where that conversation reaches into policing, we will be at the table and we will be there to support them in the difficult decisions and judgments that they need to come to.
“Not that we will be doing the politics, but where our conversations may assist them in coming to political decisions then we want to engage with politicians, as we do with communities, to make Northern Ireland a safer, more confident and peaceful society.”
The renewed talks bid comes six months after marathon negotiations chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass ended without agreement.
Needs of victims must come first: Hamilton
The needs of victims must be paramount when devising a way of dealing with Northern Ireland’s troubled past, the new chief constable has said.
George Hamilton outlined his view in the wake of his predecessor’s call for a new investigatory body to assume responsibility for the thousands of historic unsolved crimes linked to the conflict.
Earlier this month Matt Baggott, addressing the Policing Board for the last time, called for the PSNI to be liberated from investigating the past so it could focus on present day policing issues. He reiterated that view on his last day in office last week.
Mr Hamilton said Mr Baggott had made some “valid points”.
He added: “What I would say is the policing of the past for the victims and the families is not some historical issue, it’s hurt and pain that they feel today.
“We need to find a way, through the politics and through the institutions, of finding a way of dealing with that in a way that meets victims’ needs, meets families’ needs.
“I think that is entirely consistent with what my predecessor was saying last week.”