Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New talks to commence

Fresh all party talks with British, Irish and US government involvement are to begin in a couple of weeks.

Nationalist parties have reacted positively to the talks aimed at breaking the deadlock on flags, parades, the legacy of the past and the deadlock over the implementation of welfare cuts. Other outstanding issues will no doubt also be brought to the table.

Unionists on the other hand have reacted along predicable lines. Pre-conditions have been set. The same people who reneged on agreed programme for government polices, refused to accept the Haass compromise proposals and walked out of all party talks have demanded that the Irish Government not be involved in matters "which are internal to Northern Ireland". The second pre-condition is that a Commission of Inquiry be set up to investigate the decision by the Parades Commission on the Ardoyne parade.

The Anglo Irish Agreement in 1985 gave the Irish government an official say into matters concerning the North. This input was strengthened in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. The Irish government are co-guarantors of the GFA along with the British government. The Irish government are the government of the hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens in the North.

Unionists are ignoring these facts and once again playing to the tune of extreme right wing elements within Loyalism. The Irish government will be there at the table whether Unionists like it or not. There needs to be a counter balance to the DUP/UUP/Conservative & Unionist Party axis and the British governments partisan approach to unionism. Therefore Irish and US government involvement is not only welcome but necessary.

The calls by the Unionist alliance (DUP/UUP/TUV/UKIP/UDA/UVF/OO) for a Commission of inquiry is part of their "graduated response" in retaliation to a Parades Commission determination that the Orange Order could not march through the Nationalist Ardoyne neighbourhood twice in one day. 18 mass demonstrations were to be organised across the North if the SOS did not agree to their demands.

Yesterday the Secretary of State Thersea Villiers announced she would appoint a panel of "experts" to investigate the contentious North Belfast parade. This Parades Panel clearly undermines the Parades Commission. The SOS has capitulated to Unionist threats and pre-conditions and in doing so has rewarded their negativity and intransigence.

Both Nationalist parties have stated that they will not engage with any body that undermines the Parades Commission. The combined unionist leadership stated they would be seeking further clarification from the SOS on "some of the panels terms of reference, membership, functions and reporting. Our objective is to resolve issues in parading and we want to ensure the panel is capable of achieving that objective". Translated this basically means "We will only consider the panel legitimate if it gives us what we want".

The British government have also made threats before the talks have begun. We have been told under no uncertain terms that unless implementation on welfare cuts are agreed during the talks there will be no devolution of corporation tax. This on top of a threat of an £87m fine if these cuts are not implemented.

So bad faith by the Unionists and British governments are the theme in the run up to these talks. Pre-conditions and threats have been made. The Nationalist opening position during these talks must be that before any new agreement is even discussed there must be a commitment and a timetable for the implementation of all outstanding issues of previous agreements. This includes the North-South consultative forum, the Irish Language Act and the Bill of Rights. Failure to agree to this will mean the talks will fail, Stormont falls and Joint Authority begins. The world will see that blame lies solely with the Unionist/British side and their bad faith before the talks had commenced.