Northern Ireland

Police say Belfast interface tensions meeting 'constructive'

Police Land Rovers
Image caption The talks are aimed at improving relations between the PSNI and the republican and loyalist communities

Talks aimed at defusing tensions at sectarian interfaces were "constructive, open and frank", a senior police officer has said.

It was the latest in a series of meetings that began in Cardiff in May to help improve relationships between the police and communities.

ACC George Hamilton said it focused on the PSNI's handling of public order events and parading in Belfast.

He said those attending the meeting had agreed on a number of points.

  • "The issues being addressed in the discussions being chaired by Richard Haass are of profound importance for the future;
  • "The principles agreed in Cardiff remain fundamental to progress in building police and community relations;
  • "The group remains committed to work to resolve all current challenges by peaceful and lawful means."

The Progressive Unionist Party did not attend Thursday's talks, which involved senior officers, politicians and community representatives, as its usual negotiating team was not available.

After the first set of talks in Cardiff in May, an agreement was announced by senior police officers, politicians and community representatives that they said could reduce the potential for violence on the streets.

Among the issues discussed at subsequent meetings was widespread rioting during the summer months and how the police have responded.

After Thursday's meeting, ACC Hamilton said there was a "continued intention to improve relationships between police and the communities we engage with".

Also attending the talks was DUP MLA Jonathan Bell, who said there had been "a very constructive engagement with the police".

"We all support the rule of law and want to see good relationships with the police - there's a lot of good work happening on the ground," he said.

"It's important that the police get to know how the community feels, and we got a chance to exchange those views and also a very constructive way of how those situations could be policed in the future."

Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly said the continuing meetings had been "helpful".

"The Cardiff principles are still there, they are still a very advanced way forward and we will continue those discussions," he told the BBC programme The View.

Jackie McDonald, of the Ulster Political Research Group, which is linked to the loyalist paramilitary group the UDA, said after the talks that he felt the current relationships with the police were "not as tense as they were".

"It's a process - I suppose that's clichéd stuff but that's the way it is," he said.

"Obviously there are a lot of people who were not present in the room - the talks should involve everybody.

"We don't want to make it an exclusive club, and we certainly don't want to criticise anyone who's not here - we just want to get everybody working together."

Alongside this series of meetings in recent months, former US envoy Dr Richard Haass has been chairing a series of talks on flags, parading and dealing with the past - areas that have proven difficult for the Northern Ireland parties to resolve.

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