Talks on the policing of Belfast public order events with a history of large-scale unrest have produced a commitment to non-violence, it was revealed.
Two days of wide-ranging discussions were held in Cardiff involving senior Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers, politicians and representatives from loyalist and republican communities.
They were aimed at improving community and police relations rather than resolving parading or flags issues which have led to major disorder in the past.
An agreed statement said: “The conversations we had were candid, honest, and worthwhile.
“The event was positive and we intend to continue the discussions we began here.”
It added: “We commit to resolve our differences through dialogue and non-violent means, underpinned by the principles of equality, inclusiveness, respect for difference, and non-discrimination.”
Weeks of sporadic loyalist rioting in East Belfast followed December’s decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall to designated days, injuring more than 100 officers and costing millions in extra security and losses to the local economy.
Last summer republican demonstrators against loyal order marches through Ardoyne in North Belfast launched attacks against police brought in to separate the two sides.
This weekend’s talks involved the policing of public order events and issues surrounding community and police relations. Resolving issues around parades, flags or interfaces was not on the agenda.
Senior police have said there was a perception in the republican community that the force had not done enough to stop the flag protests and parades. Some loyalists felt they had been heavy-handed.
There have also been complaints about how police conducted house searches and responded to public order incidents.
Delegates to this weekend’s discussions included loyalists Jackie McDonald and Winston Irvine, republican Sean Murray, nationalist resident’s group organiser Joe Marley and North Belfast Presbyterian minister Norman Hamilton.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, senior Sinn Fein figure Gerry Kelly, SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt and Democratic Unionist junior minister Jonathan Bell were also present.
The PSNI team was led by assistant chief constable George Hamilton and the talks were facilitated by the University of Ulster.
The group members agreed to meet again at home in the coming weeks to discuss how best to continue the dialogue and how to ensure it makes a sustainable and positive impact.
The statement added: “We recognize the influence and impact of words and we agree on the need for constructive and respectful language in the coming months.”
They reaffirmed support for the PSNI, the Northern Ireland Policing Board, and the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland and said police had to uphold the law in a fully accountable fashion.
“There are consequences for communities and individuals in breaking the law. We recognize that we all have a responsibility to explain these consequences in an understandable and practical way,” the statement added.
“We will seek ways to increase our engagement with the wider criminal justice system to address policing and community safety issues in the coming months.”
The PSNI has agreed to explain in advance the general principles by which policing will be delivered in major public events.
The group added: “We agree that lines of communication – political, community and policing – will be open at all times, especially during critical periods of high tension in our community.”