Commitment to 'non-violence' at Belfast public order events

Sunday 19 May 2013 22.11
There were weeks of rioting after the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall
There were weeks of rioting after the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall

Talks on the policing of Belfast public order events with a history of large-scale unrest have produced a commitment to non-violence.

Two days of wide-ranging discussions were held in Cardiff involving senior PSNI officers, politicians and representatives from unionist and republican communities.

They were aimed at improving community and police relations rather than resolving parading or flags issues that have led to major disorder in the past.

The group said: "The conversations we had were candid, honest, and worthwhile.

"The event was positive and we intend to continue the discussions we began here.

"We commit to resolve our differences through dialogue and non-violent means, underpinned by the principles of equality, inclusiveness, respect for difference, and non-discrimination."

Weeks of sporadic loyalist rioting in east Belfast followed the decision in December to restrict the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall to designated days, injuring more than 100 officers and costing millions in extra security and losses to the local economy.

Last summer, republican demonstrators against Orange Order marches through Ardoyne in north Belfast launched attacks against police brought in to separate the two sides.

This weekend's talks involved the policing of public order events and issues surrounding community and police relations.

Resolving issues around parades, flags or interfaces was not on the agenda.

Senior police have said there was a perception in the republican community that the force had not done enough to stop the flag protests and parades. Some loyalists felt they had been heavy-handed.

There have also been complaints about how police conducted house searches and responded to public order incidents.

Delegates involved in this weekend's discussions included loyalists Jackie McDonald and Winston Irvine, republican Sean Murray, nationalist resident's group organiser Joe Marley and north Belfast Presbyterian minister Norman Hamilton.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt, Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt and Democratic Unionist Party junior minister Jonathan Bell were also present.

The PSNI team was led by assistant chief constable George Hamilton and the talks were facilitated by the University of Ulster.

The group members agreed to meet again at home in the coming weeks to discuss how best to continue the dialogue and how to ensure it makes a sustainable and positive impact.

The PSNI has agreed to explain in advance the general principles by which policing will be delivered in major public events.

Assistant chief constable Hamilton described it as a successful meeting.

He said: "The challenge will be to do what we have agreed to do, but I am satisfied that everyone will work in good spirit.

"Everyone has got things to do, but agreeing simple things like keeping channels of conversation open, even in times of heightened tensions, is healthy."

Keywords: belfast, psni