Labour’s recommendations to Haass to reform Parades Commission, reform HET … and introduce a bank holiday

The Labour Party’s submission to the Haass/O’Sullivan talks is spread over five pages (with a two page summary of recommendations at the back).

It starts by noting the important role the Labour Party played in the peace process, saying that the party’s submission is a “signal [of] our continued commitment to ensuring Northern Ireland continues on its journey to build peace, fairness and prosperity”.

There’s an emphasis throughout the submission on local committees and forums rather than relying solely on centralised bodies to bring about truth and reconciliation. The submission references the Good Friday Agreement “and subsequent agreements” as well as the “Eames-Bradley” Consultative Group on the Past proposals, and notes the “vital” work of the PSNI. It’s not clear from the submission whether the local NI Labour movement have had any input to the submission.

They have some a quick fix and a long plan for the Parades Commission, a stance on flags, ideas on the reform of the HET and support for a peace process-celebrating Public Holiday. [Ed – is it mandatory that Haass submissions have a gimmick to take the spotlight off other more serious suggestions?]

On parading, Labour suggest that the Parades Commission allow decisions to be appealed to a panel of commissioners not involved in the original decision.

We want to signal our broad support for the Parade Commission, but believe that over time responsibility for the membership and remit of the Commission should be transferred to the Northern Ireland Executive. It is clear that such a transfer would not be appropriate at the present time.

The transparency of the Commission’s decision making process should be strengthened with immediate effect. Within the constraints of necessary security-related confidentiality, all decisions should be accompanied by an explanation consistent with publicly available criteria.

Isn’t that the Parades Commission’s determination document published on their website?

There should be a clear process and timescale for a speedy right of appeal with the appeal considered by a panel of commissioners not involved in the initial decision.

It is essential the rule of law applies to all Commission decisions. Any breach should be subject to appropriate action by the PSNI. Local and national politicians should be expected to support the Commission’s decisions once due process has been followed.

On flags Labour supports the main building of each council flying the Union flag on designated days.

In most circumstances decisions about flying flags on public buildings should be made by institutions having taken full account of views and sensitivities within the relevant local community.

However, in relation to the main civic building in every council area it would be best if all parties could sign up to a compromise agreement. The basis of such an agreement would be to accept the precedent currently applied to Government buildings and Stormont which recognises that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, whereby the Union flag will fly on agreed designated days.

Clearly, discretion should be available to take account of one off events and special occasions.

Clearly, discretion and one-off events could easily become a bone of contention.

Labour acknowledge grassroots initiatives that have been dealing with the past and “have been successful in healing some of the pain related to the past”. They outline some principles for dealing with the past.

First, any process must put victims and their families centre stage. Some seek truth, others truth and justice, and a minority would rather not revisit the past. Every effort must be made to accommodate this range of views and needs in any new framework.

A second important principle is that any process must recognise that significant progress can be made without trying to achieve a shared narrative about the past. What is of paramount importance is that Nationalists and Unionists make a reality of “parity of esteem” and learn to respect the equal status and legitimacy of their fellow citizens now and in the future. Going forward violence can never be condoned, should be condemned by politicians from all parties and all community leaders and renounced by all paramilitary groups. Only then will we be able to move towards a path of mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and shared remembrance.

The third principle is that while it is, of course, right to consider all options about addressing responsibility and accountability for past wrongdoing, it is also important to say that any process must recognise the rights and responsibilities defined by the European Convention on Human Rights. The convention is clear. It stresses the importance of ensuring justice, truth and reparation in response to violation and abuses, which would require a deep and sensitive understanding of what that would mean for the wishes and expectations of victims and their families.

On truth recovery

Those with relevant knowledge of paramilitary activities or unlawful actions by people acting on behalf of the State should be encouraged to provide information which assists victims and their families to establish the truth about specific events.

No mention of what encouragement would be offered: sense of civic pride, immunity from investigation or prosecution?

A process will need to be established with consideration given to the possibility of creating forums at a local level which provides people with the opportunity to exchange information relevant to their local communities.

On the HET ….

We recognise the important work that the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has done to bring justice to families …

But …

… public confidence requires significant reform of its status, remit and functions. A new or reformed organization must be totally independent and be given adequate powers. In addition to reviewing specific incidents, it should be able should be able to examine themes such as specific paramilitary activity or allegations connected with State collusion. Serious consideration should be given to extending its remit to include incidents which led to serious injuries as well as fatalities.

There is a strong case for a time limit of five-years to be applied to its work. Although this will require strong leadership and adequate resources.

Previous commitments to public inquiries (eg, around the murder of Pat Finucane) “should be honoured … However other than in exceptional circumstances we believe every effort should be made to achieve truth and justice without the need for further public inquiries”.

On reconciliation

Consideration to be given to the creation of a specific Bank Holiday to celebrate the historic achievement of a peace process which has been lauded across the world. This should focus on events and activities which celebrate political, societal, economic progress and showcase positive examples of reconciliation. Clearly, maximum possible consensus should be sought to identify a date which would be agreeable to all communities.

Building on the excellent work of the WAVE Trauma Centres, we believe urgent consideration should be given to the creation of comprehensive post-trauma services in every community to provide the necessary support and therapy to victims of the troubles.

The establishment of a national civic forum with consideration given to providing support for the development of local civic forums such as the Derry-Londonderry’s “Unity of Purpose” group.

Agreement to a shared remembrance day which both focuses on the troubles of the past while providing an opportunity to highlight a commitment to a shared future.

Labour suggest that the NI Executive “supported by business and civil society “ should make a concerted effort “to tackle youth unemployment and disengagement“.

Labour opt for sharing and integration in education, encouraging “school twinning and shared campuses … alongside support for the integrated education movement”. They want to see ”joint sporting activities and events at a grassroots and elite level”.

Strong support is offered for OFMdFM’s TBUC [Together: Building a United Community”] commitment to creating a 10- year programme to removing peace walls by 2033.

Consideration should be given to the establishment of local committees with equal representation from each community to agree a programme of reconciliation linked to a timescale for the demolition of specific barriers.

It’s so hard to avoid the language of “each community” that reduces Northern Ireland streets to orange and green. Yet there can be more than two sides to a wall.

Labour have a recommendation about an “appropriate structure to oversee the process”.

A commission should be established by the Northern Ireland Executive with a 5-year mandate to oversee all issues relating to the past in connection with truth recovery, truth and justice and reconciliation. This commission should be chaired by a credible international figure.

Labour’s submission finishes with some pointers to other issues – outside the main Haass agenda – that influence NI’s chances of peace and stability, and include some digs at the Conservative/Liberal coalition.

The corrosive cycle of poor educational attainment, worklessness and intergenerational deprivation continues to afflict far too many families and communities in Northern Ireland. Families in Northern Ireland are facing a cost of living crisis with people £800 per year worse off under this Government.

Almost 1 in 5 young people are unemployed. These conditions have the potential to be the breeding ground for extremists, and for perpetual conflict and instability. Although these issues are primarily the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, the UK Government has a key role to play in supporting a jobs and growth strategy and reconsidering pernicious social security policies such as the Bedroom Tax.

This year’s disturbances should teach us a number of lessons, one of which is undoubtedly that unfinished business remains in relation to the past. However, we must also reflect on the impact of social and economic inequality, which must be addressed if peace in Northern Ireland is to move from a political accommodation to a society built on genuine reconciliation and mutual respect.

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  • Charles_Gould

    Very much agree with the proposals on the removal of peace walls. This needs urgent attention. But seems outside of the Haass remit.

  • Johnny Boy

    The cynic in me thinks that a NI holiday/day of remembrance is totally pointless, but I suppose it’s better than being in work.

    Would it help communities recognise better what they have in common in regards to the scars left by the troubles, maybe taking some focus from their differences?

  • WindsorRocker

    A holiday to celebrate the achievements of the Peace Process……..

    What was done in the years between 1997 and 2005, which went from IRA ceasefire to paramilitary winding up, was distasteful even if people accepted it as a necessary evil to get us to a situation that most people enjoy around the world namely a peaceful functioning society.

    So we will all have to celebrate the disbandment of the RUC, the release of prisoners, the moral greyness of the process, I think most people just want to say “What happened, happened. We are where we are which is thankfully a better place than 25 years ago” but they will have no desire to celebrate the methods and steps that got us there.

  • “the development of local civic forums”

    I’ve not heard of the Derry-Londonderry ‘Unity of Purpose’ group. I can see no mention of it in the Derry City Council Good Relations report. All councils AFAIK have Good Relations programmes but the unionist-nationalist tug-of-war is clearly evident in Moyle District Council.

    “It’s so hard to avoid the language of “each community” that reduces Northern Ireland streets to orange and green. Yet there can be more than two sides to a wall.”

    Er, the constitutional question still rules the roost in the political realm and will continue to do so; political attrition and reaction will continue to trump consensus. London and Dublin will continue to say how good the relations are between the two governments and they’ll both keep Belfast at arm’s length if they possibly can as witnessed by their absence from the Haass group as distinct from the Haass deliberations.

  • BarneyT

    The solution has to come from within not labour or the tories amidst some shoe slinging. The holiday proposal is not a bad idea, but it will cause contention i.e. The DUP were anti -agreement remember. Holidays need to be reformed and we can start by looking at the twelfth fortnight. Enforced holidays at this time in many industries stink of the domination of the past.

    Its time we explored a reunification of Ulster..administered from Belfast. We need to draw in Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan soon, as they have been part of a settled society, and can contribute to Ulster. Ok, this sounds like a lurch towards four federal Irish States,,,but why not entertain and Anglo-Irish Federal Ireland that reaches out to all….west brits included 🙂 ?

  • cynic2

    Great to see Labour focus on all the things they didn’t do or made worse during their years in power and lecture us when they will not organize here

  • cynic2

    “ts time we explored a reunification of Ulster..”

    A troll a day ……….

  • WindsorRocker

    Barney T,

    “Holidays need to be reformed and we can start by looking at the twelfth fortnight. Enforced holidays at this time in many industries stink of the domination of the past.”

    That comment indicates a total lack of awareness of the needs of industry, particularly large scale manufacturing.

    In order to maximise efficiency, ensure accuracy of scheduling etc etc, these business need to have their production workers taking large chunks of fixed holidays throughout the year in large blocks.

    Businesses therefore look towards the periods in the year when there are public holidays in consecutive days or the like which serve as the pivot for those shutdowns.

    Easter and Christmas are the obvious ones but in Northern Ireland we have the two days in July where a significant section of the workforce on shop floors wishes to either participate in or spectate in a large scale cultural event which also takes over many towns for the days concerned.

    So to have the fixed summer shutdown in any other time outside of the Twelfth would result in having to deal with maybe 25% of the workforce wanting time off July 12 and no manufacturing business could cope with running on 75% of workers. It would also damage relations on the shop floor if that 25% were to be denied their cultural expression with only 5% holidays allowed on that day.

    So it’s not just as simple as “themmuns get a week or two for their big day”…..

  • redstar2011

    If we are serious about equality, fresh start, moving forward etc why is the ” national holiday” of this place one based solely for one side of the community

  • Johnny Boy

    As you say WindsorRocker we are in a much better place, and that’s worth remembering, so why not put some emphasis on it?

  • cynic2

    er….an extra holiday is another 0.5% reduction in competitiveness. Typical Labour …and its to be a day to celebrate the ‘peace process’ – I assume we call it Saint Tony’s Day but perhaps it might be better called Tout Day in memory of those who undermined the terrorists and helped bring us peace?

  • Framer

    “The European Convention on Human Rights is clear. It stresses the importance of ensuring justice, truth and reparation in response to violation and abuses, which would require a deep and sensitive understanding of what that would mean for the wishes and expectations of victims and their families.”
    No it doesn’t. That is case law commentary plus and the Strasbourg court is not precedent based.

  • Is this the Irish or British Labour Party?

  • DC

    I am assuming it is the ‘Labour Party in NI’ of the British Labour Party.

    Even I am realistic to know if it is LPNI of the BLP, it does not contest elections here, it is obv not elected here and no one will listen to it as it has no constituency and support however well written and thoughtful the stuff is.

    It would be better using ‘Platform for Change’ to put this stuff out or linking up with the PUP and seeing if it would be interested in taking up some of its content, as the PUP is constituted along old British Labour Party lines and values. It at least might listen to some of the points and take a stand on them. Unlike the actual Labour Party writing this stuff!

  • Labour Party press release – but no link to a downloadable document 🙂

  • Master McGrath

    This looks SO Labour that it is hard to believe that any input was had from the members in NI.
    It still reeks of the Blairite approach of seeming to give something new but only offering a rehash of a plethora of quick fix solutions that are designed to appeal to everyone in some way or another. No bread but circuses for al with a holiday.
    I tend to agree with a lot of what Cynic2 is saying and am worried that the notion that the PUP is set up along the lines of the old Labour Party could somehow gain credence in the minds of the weak .
    The NILP was set up like the British Labour Party but the difference it has with whatever structures the PUP may have is that it had an appeal to people from both Orange and Green traditions.
    Sam Napier must be spinning in his grave.

  • DC

    The PUP (1996) lists among its main objectives:

    ‘To organise and maintain in Parliaments, National and Regional, a Political Labour and Unionist Party’ while at the same time it maintains a steadfast vigilance ‘To watch over, promote and protect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom’. These key objectives reinforce its unique socialist and unionist character. Indeed article 4.5. in the PUP’s Constitution retains the Old Weberian Clause 4 from the British Labour Party Constitution, which aims:

    To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

    It is obvious from the party’s aims and objectives that it remains rooted firmly in the working-class community it seeks to represent and places the promotion of the ‘Political, Social and Economic emancipation of the people of Northern Ireland, and more particularly of those who depend upon their exertions by hand or brain for the means of life’ at the very apex of its policy decisions.

    Unlike the NILP, which was more explicitly democratic socialist and non-confessional (Edwards 2007, 2008 and 2009b), the PUP articulates its entire political programme from a mainly working class unionist perspective (Edwards 2007).

    (Taken from Edwards – a left-wing voice in an ethnically divided society)

  • I’m going to tidy up the comment thread a little since it’s strayed well outside the scope of a discussion around the (British) Labour Party’s submission to the Haass talks!

  • Nevin – I’ve linked to and embedded the full Labour submission above.

    Master McGrath – You’re correct – there was no direct input from NI LP members.

  • Alan,

    Are all submissions available somewhere or just those released by the submitting person or organization?

  • arsetopple

    Alan I appreciate you can moderate & edit comments. However you left the PUP comments in & removed the link to a video of the current leader talking about his double sectarian murder in the past. Is this house keeping or censorship?

  • WindsorRocker

    “As you say WindsorRocker we are in a much better place, and that’s worth remembering, so why not put some emphasis on it?”

    For a lot of people, it’s HOW we got here that is the issue and what we did to get this peace. A peace that should have been here in the first place and a peace that most countries in the world take for granted.

    A lot of difficult and, to some people, dirty decisions were taken, a lot of people were hurt by what was done to get this peace.

    So a day to celebrate a “process” shrouded in ambiguity and torrid compromises where even those who were uncomfortable had to be pragmatic and hold their nose is not something to be “celebrated”. It is what it is and we move on.

  • arsetopple – I’m sure the video is appropriate to a thread about the PUP leadership, but irrelevant to a discussion about Labour party proposals. The assessment of whether the PUP was constituted along Labour party lines was tangential and I left it in. One person’s moderation, another person’s censorship?

  • between the bridges

    ”a specific Bank Holiday to celebrate the historic achievement of a peace process which has been lauded across the world”.. the we aren’t murdering as many as we used too day…