Flanagan wants NI talks on flags, parading to resume in September

Villiers says drowning of Oswald Bradley as he attempted to remove flags ‘deeply tragic’

Minister for  Foreign Affairs  Charlie Flanagan with Northern Ireland Secretary of State  Theresa Villiers at Stormont House in  Belfast. Photograph: PA

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers at Stormont House in Belfast. Photograph: PA

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 15:58

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan wants all-party talks in Northern Ireland on issues such as flags, parading and the past to resume in September.

During his first visit to Belfast since assuming the role earlier this month, Mr Flanagan said he believed it was “imperative” discussions between political leaders on the matters resumed “at the earliest opportunity”.

Mr Flanagan and Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers, who met at Stormont today, rejected suggestions the governments in Dublin and London were not invested enough in resolving the issues.

Mr Flanagan said there had been talks between Taoiseach Enda Kenny and British prime minister David Cameron and between Ms Villiers and his predecessor Eamon Gilmore on the subject and that engagement in Northern Ireland was one of his priorities as minister.

“I believe it is absolutely essential that we follow through on all aspects of the Good Friday agreement and I look forward to discussing these matters with the party leaders,” he said.

The Minister was due to meet First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and representatives of the SDLP and Alliance Party in Belfast this afternoon.

“I do think it is important that we set a date of September for a resumption of talks and that will be high on my agenda for this afternoon,” Mr Flanagan added.

Ms Villiers insisted that the UK and Irish governments had a “strong working relationship” on these matters in the North and had been enthusiastic and engaged in encouraging the parties to come back to the table after the local and European elections.

The DUP and UUP pulled out of the latest round of talks on flags, parading and the past earlier this month after a decision to bar Orangemen from parading past the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast on the evening of the Twelfth of July.

Ms Villiers said the death of Oswald Bradley (68) in Bessbrook, Co Armagh earlier this week as attempted to remove two Irish tricolours that had been hung from trees on a small island in a pond was a “deeply tragic case”.

“I think it is certainly an illustration that issues around flags do have the potential to have very hurtful and damaging consequences,” she said. “I hope it is something that the parties will consider when then direct their minds to a way forward on flags parading and the past.”

Calls have been made for a Commission of Inquiry to examine the issues around the controversial Ardoyne march in North Belfast that brought an end to the talks.

Ms Villiers said she had taken no decision on such a commission and was still very much assessing her options.

“What tends to unify most people is the importance of bringing the two sides together in north Belfast in a sustained dialogue,” she said. “So if anything fresh is to be set up, I think that should be at the heart of it.”