Peter Robinson says trust is in short supply

Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has said trust is in short supply ahead of renewed political talks on issues outstanding from the peace process.

Keen to avoid a repeat of violence that erupted in Belfast over a parading dispute last July, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein are hoping agreement could help reduce tensions during this summer’s marching season.

Peter Robinson and Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will convene two separate three-day sessions of talks with representatives of the five parties in the devolved power-sharing executive. They will focus on contentious loyal order parades, the flying of the Union flag and others and the toxic legacy of conflict murders for victims and society.

Mr Robinson said during previous negotiations he had not been told republican on-the-runs from justice had received government assurances that they were not then wanted by police.

He said: “Trust is in short supply, particularly when you learn that things were going on, not only behind our backs but even at a later time when we were dealing with those issues - nobody thought it proper to inform us.”

The renewed bid for a political settlement within weeks comes six months after marathon sessions chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass ended without agreement and only weeks before the loyal order parading season, which in recent years has sparked rioting in north Belfast, gets into full swing.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has said a window of opportunity exists following the European and local elections.

Mr Robinson told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs, sitting at Stormont: “It would be a very rash person that would rush down to the bookies to put on a bet that the new set of talks are going to be successful.”

He said his party had made it clear that dealing with the past would have to wait until a review chaired by Lady Justice Heather Hallett into the Government’s administrative scheme for telling republicans they were not wanted was complete.

Mr Robinson added: “We need to know what the circumstances are that we are facing before we negotiate those and feel very sore that during the Haass process we were day and night in negotiating the past and not told those letters were in the hands of suspects.”

He said this did not stop politicians from continuing to work to try and resolve outstanding issues.

The negotiations are in part an effort to avoid violence which has characterised annual ‘Twelfth of July’ loyal order demonstrations in north Belfast.

Restrictions have in the past been imposed on a parade through a short stretch of road passing nationalist housing in Ardoyne but a heavy security presence has been necessary to enforce the separation of loyalists and republicans and keep the peace.

In past years dissident republicans opposed to the peace process have engaged in violence at the sectarian flashpoint, hurling petrol bombs and other missiles at riot police.

Last year loyalist rioters targeted police during a number of nights of trouble, sparked when the Orange Order parade was banned from returning home from Twelfth commemorations past the Ardoyne.

With relations at the heart of the Democratic Unionist/Sinn Fein led mandatory coalition at one of their lowest ebbs, the odds on significant movement being achieved before contentious marches take place will be long.