By Theo Russell
SINN FÉIN MP Conor Murphy spoke to supporters in London last week at a public meeting in Westminster on the end of the Haass all-party talks, aimed at resolving challenging issues on flags and emblems, Orange parades, and dealing with the legacy of the past without any deal being reached.
He said last year had seen violent protests and intimidation by: “A small rump of unionism opposed to equality, sectarian marches, attacks on churches, homes and elected politicians” and he condemned “The failure, and in some cases complicity, of unionist leaders during all of this.”
There are 3,000 parades in the north every year but only a handful, in or near Belfast and Derry, cause problems and negotiations between communities in Derry have been successful.
Murphy said the two main unionist parties, afraid of alienating supporters with elections due in May, had refused to condemn the Loyalist outfits and effectively pulled the plug on the Haass talks using filibuster tactics.
“Both parties are openly consulting the views of these Loyalist groups, including people charged for disorder and violence. The Ulster Unionist Party no longer wants to discuss the issues, while the Democratic Unionist Party is trying to start a whole new process.” This would negate a year’s work including contributions from 600 community organisations.
Meanwhile Britain’s coalition government, which has done little in the north of Ireland apart from alienating a variety of groups while imposing savage austerity cuts, has failed to back the Haass proposals beyond a meek announcement that they “have merit”.
Murphy said: “Of course all of our communities in Ireland – just as in Britain – are facing the destructive impact of right-wing austerity policies, but we reject the farcical suggestion that the costs of implementation of the proposals should come out of the block grant to the north, which has already been cut by the coalition government.”
But of greater concern to progressives in Britain is the disgraceful failure of the Labour Party to come out in support of the Haass process. Many at the meeting voiced concern at this, and Murphy called for Labour and other parties to put pressure on the coalition government.
Murphy said the Irish government was behind the Haass proposals, “But has done little in recent years to press for full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.”
He welcomed a statement from the main church leaders, and a rally in Belfast on 31st January organised by the Northern Ireland Congress of Trade Unions, supporting the Haass process.
On the positive side, Murphy pointed out: “Instead of walking away from the process, Richard Haass issued a strong statement saying the proposals should be implemented,” while Gerry Adams has also said that despite widespread disappointment there was still a "basis for a deal".