By Ciaran Mulholland,
The almost continuous protests and violence on the streets of the last year is a stark warning for the future. Division and conflict on the ground puts the stability of the Executive into question. Over the summer tension between the DUP and Sinn Fein was further heightened when the DUP unilaterally withdrew from plan for a peace centre at the site of the Maze Prison/Long Kesh.
Talks between the main parties chaired by US diplomat Richard Haas, are now underway with the aim of addressing issues around flags, emblems, parades and the past and are due to conclude before Christmas.
Whilst desperate attempts are being made to play up the potential of the talks, they occur against the background of on-going tension. An uneasy standoff continues on Twadell Avenue in North Belfast as the Orange Order protests every night against the decision to stop its July march past Ardoyne shops. Small scale flag protests continue at City Hall every Saturday. A major Loyalist march went through the city centre on Saturday September 21st. The fallout after the attack on Mayor Martin O’Mueillor is causing dissension on Belfast City Council. There is speculation around the ownership of the large arms find in South Belfast. And sporadic dissident attacks on the PSNI, attacks on Orange halls and threats against Catholics – for example against Catholic owned bars in Larne – continue.
If any deal or agreement is reached in the Haas talks it will be partial and fragile. Fundamentally any agreement will be no more than an uneasy “understanding” which means no more than agreeing to disagree. Real and lasting agreement is impossible between forces which base themselves on division and disagreement. Only the development of a real political alternative, which unites working class people in a mass party, can tackle the problems which are causing so much turmoil on our streets.