Haass NI talks issues explained

US diplomat Dr Richard Haass is chairing talks in Northern Ireland dealing with issues surrounding parades, flags and dealing with the past.

But what exactly do those issues entail?

Orange Order parade The majority of Orange Order parades are not contentious


Parades are an important part of life for many people in Northern Ireland.

The majority of parades that take place are connected to the unionist, or Protestant, community.

Most are organised by the Orange Order or other religious/cultural organisations, and the majority are not contentious.

The controversial parades are generally those that pass by, or through, nationalist areas.

Many nationalists feel that parading is an expression of historic unionist domination over nationalists in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party, says that it does not seek to stop loyalists parading through nationalist areas, but that it should only happen after dialogue between marchers and residents.

Marching organisations believe that walking on the "Queen's highway" is a fundamental right.

A small number of nationalist parades have also proved contentious in the past.

In 1998, the UK government set up the Parades Commission to rule on contentious parades.

It has the power either to impose restrictions and conditions on parades.

The Orange Order, except in a few isolated cases, has not engaged with the Parades Commission.

Unionist politicians have called for the body to be scrapped.

Union flag protester at Belfast City Hall A man waves a union flag during a protest outside Belfast City Hall


Flags, and other symbols, are also important expressions of cultural identity in Northern Ireland.

Unionists and Protestants generally give their allegiance to the union flag.

They say that as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the union flag is NI's national flag.

Most nationalists, or Catholics, would see the Republic of Ireland tricolour as "their" flag.

Tensions over flags were heightened in December 2012 when Belfast City Council voted to only fly the union flag from city hall and other council buildings on 18 designated days - previously it had flown continuously.

The decision was condemned by unionist politicians, and it sparked street protests, some of which were violent and led to the injury of more than 100 police officers.

The flying of flags, usually from lamp-posts, is also used by elements of both communities to mark out their "territory".

Enniskillen bomb Eleven people died in the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bomb in 1987. More than 3,500 people died during the Troubles

Dealing with the past

It is believed that dealing with the legacy and aftermath of Northern Ireland's Troubles will be the most difficult issue to resolve.

More than 3,500 people died during the Troubles, and in almost 3,300 cases there were no prosecutions.

A Historical Enquiries Team (HET) was set up to investigate unsolved Troubles murders, but has itself proved controversial.

All political parties agree that the rights and feelings of victims should be at the centre of any process.

What the process should be, and exactly how a victim is defined, however, have proved almost impossible to agree.

Victims, as defined by the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, are those directly affected by bereavement, physical injury, or trauma, as a result of the Troubles. The Victims Commission estimates that as many as 500,000 people could qualify under that definition.

Unionists, however, believe that those who committed, or were involved in, acts of violence should be excluded.

Nationalists also have concerns over alleged collusion between the UK government and loyalist paramilitaries.

A proposal from the NI Attorney General, John Larkin, in November 2013, that there should be an end to Troubles-related prosecutions, was condemned by victims' groups and by most politicians.

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