Cardiff talks should make Northern Ireland summer 'safer'

The talks were organised by senior police officers in a bid to improve community relations

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A senior PSNI officer has said talks in Cardiff over the weekend between police, politicians and community representatives should help make Northern Ireland safer this summer.

The discussions were aimed at trying to reduce tensions in the run-up to the marching season.

Further talks are planned for the future in Belfast.

Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton, who led the talks, said they had been "candid, honest and frank".

"The fact we've agreed to keep lines of communication open, even in difficult times and even when disorder ignites, is critically important," he said.

"They weren't just broad principles (agreed), but very practical steps to make Northern Ireland a safer place during the summer."

He said there was "a real willingness by all that they have to be serious about engagement" and everyone recognised the need to support the police.

'Good shape'

Former Presbyterian moderator Norman Hamilton said the talks more than reached his expectations.

He said it was important that communication across Northern Ireland society "be kept in good shape".

"Over the years it has been the small steps, it has been the quiet conversations that have enabled the big picture to be changed and I think this has certainly helped in that," he said.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said events on the ground in Northern Ireland would show whether the talks had served their purpose.

"I think we'll know the next time there is tension on the streets, if you hear different language and you see different behaviour, then it will have been worthwhile," Mr Nesbitt said.

The SDLP's Conall McDevitt said everyone in Northern Ireland had to respect the job the police were doing, even if they sometimes did not agree with them.

"The important thing is that after six or seven months of disrespect for the rule of law, of attacks on the PSNI, attacks on public representatives, we've got everyone back to where we should be which is asserting the fundamental centrality of the rule of law in our society and the importance of understanding and supporting the PSNI even when they're doing a job that we might not agree with," he said.

In a statement issued after two days of talks in Cardiff, the delegates agreed to keep lines of communication open, especially during periods of tension.

'Improve relations'

They re-affirmed support for the PSNI, Policing Board and Police Ombudsman.

The talks were organised in an attempt to improve relations between police and republican and loyalist communities.

The issues around parades, flags or interfaces were not on the agenda, the PSNI had previously said.

Speaking after the talks, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly said: "This is about policing with the community and the relationship between police and the community."

"I think, in that instance, in that parameter, the weekend has been successful."

Another delegate, Nelson McCausland of the DUP, said: "There are always people who will not listen to anyone, who are intent on disruption, who have no positive contribution to make to society.

"That's a fact of life, not only in Northern Ireland, but around the world.

"We should do what we can do and that's what we are determined to do."

Winston Irvine of the Progressive Unionist Party said: "We need to be focussing on actually finding local solutions to local problems."

A joint statement from all the delegates said conversations "had been candid, honest and worthwhile".

"The goal of this event has been to have an open and frank conversation about policing in Belfast, in particular the policing of public order events and the issues surrounding community and police relations," the representatives said.

They said they intended to continue the discussions upon return to Northern Ireland.

List of delegates attending engagement talks in Cardiff

Robert McCartney, Winston Irvine, Richard Good, Conall McDevitt , Mike Nesbitt, Gerry Kelly, Sean Murray, Jackie McDonald, John Bunting, Rev Norman Hamilton, Liam Maskey, Seamus McAleavey

Declan McGeown, Sam Pollock, John Loughran, Jonathan Bell, Nelson McCausland, Joe Marley, Mark Cosgrove, Chris Lyttle, Tim Attwood, Debbie Watters

ACC George Hamilton, ACC Will Kerr, Chief Supt Mark Hamilton, Chief Supt Alan McCrum, Chief Supt George Clarke, Chief Insp Mark McEwan, Maura Muldoon

Facilitated by: Duncan Morrow, Jonny Byrne, Byran Bland and Brenna Powell

The members of the group said they had collectively agreed on the following:

"We recognize the influence and impact of words and we agree on the need for constructive and respectful language in the coming months.

"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.

"We reaffirm our support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and the Office of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland."

The delegates said they recognised and supported the PSNI's responsibility to uphold the law in a manner that was fully accountable.

"There are consequences for communities and individuals in breaking the law. We recognize that we all have a responsibility to explain these consequences in an understandable and practical way," they said.

High tension

"We will seek ways to increase our engagement with the wider criminal justice system to address policing and community safety issues in the coming months.

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

"We agree that lines of communication - political, community and policing - will be open at all times, especially during critical periods of high tension in our community."

The talks began on Friday morning and continued over the weekend.

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