Proposal for bank holiday to mark peace process in Northern Ireland

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A new bank holiday should be created in Northern Ireland to celebrate the achievements of the peace process, the Labour Party has proposed.

The party also recommended the establishment of a five year commission, chaired by a respected international figure, to focus on outstanding issues linked to the legacy of the Troubles, including truth recovery, justice and reconciliation.

The proposals are outlined in its submission to the ongoing Haass talks - an initiative aimed at finding political resolution to longstanding disputes on legacy matters, parades and flags.

Labour has recommended a full revamp of the police’s cold case Troubles investigation unit - the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) - arguing that it should be allowed to take a thematic approach - such as examining wider collusion allegations or the activities of certain paramilitary gangs - rather than just a case by case basis. It also said there was a strong case for time limiting the work of the HET to five more years.

The party said the bank holiday could be used to promote reconciliation.

It said the holiday, the date of which could be agreed by local politicians, should focus on events and activities which celebrate political, societal, economic progress.

Labour also said 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.

It recommended 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 peace walls.

In regard to parades, Labour has called for the existing Parades Commission adjudication body to be retained but with more transparency around its rulings on contentious marches.

It said 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.

On the issue of flags flying on public buildings, the party said the main civic building in every council area should follow the practice currently applied at Stormont, where the Union flag flies on Parliament Buildings on designated days. It was the vote by Belfast City Council to introduce the designated days policy at City Hall that triggered last winter’s flag protests.

Shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Ivan Lewis released the Labour Party’s submission to the Haass process.

“The Haass Talks come at a crucial moment for Northern Ireland,” he said.

“It is essential all Northern Ireland Parties supported by the UK and Irish Governments use this opportunity to agree a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the past. This will require courageous and visionary political leadership which puts the interests of victims and their families ahead of party political considerations.

“Our submission is rooted in the principle of parity of esteem for all communities in Northern Ireland. We propose a comprehensive framework to address the complex issues of truth, justice and reconciliation with the needs of victims and their families put centre stage.

“Our proposals on reconciliation build on positive initiatives both at a grassroots level and by the Northern Ireland Executive. They are the key to providing a ‘bridge’ from the past to the future. Our ambition should be to move from a cold peace to a warm peace within a decade.”

Labour has become the second main political party to publish its submission following Sinn Fein’s decision to outline its proposals earlier this week.

That move was criticised by some political rivals, who pointed to Dr Richard Haass’s request at the start of the process for politicians to keep submissions confidential while negotiations were ongoing.

Sinn Fein’s proposals include legislation to prevent unregulated flag flying in public spaces; a legally binding code of conduct for parades, with “effective sanctions”; and the establishment of an independent, international “truth recovery mechanism” to address the legacy of the past.