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4 August 2014 Edition

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Parades – Orange Order has to adapt to change

‘Demographics and political power have shifted over past 45 years’

• The pan-unionist front (which includes the Orange Order, DUP, UUP, TUV, the west Belfast UDA and the UVF-linked Progressive Unionist Party) threatened a ‘graduated response’ unless an Orange parade could return via nationalist Ardoyne

It is difficult to identify a rationale for such a dogmatic and absolutist response and it’s all the more difficult to understand given the DUP’s position on parades in the Hillsborough talks in 2009/10

THE DISENGAGEMENT from the talks process by political unionism came as no great surprise to either their political opponents or the local media.

They had led a focused campaign over the past two months at pressurising the NIO, the Parades Commission and the PSNI in their efforts to elicit a determination that would facilitate a return ‘victory’ parade through Ardoyne on the Twelfth.

A pan-unionist front (incorporating the DUP, Ulster Unionists, Jim Allister’s Traditional Unionist Voice, the PUP, the west Belfast UDA and the Orange Order) was patched together as the vehicle to deliver threats to “collapse the institutions” with a “graduated response” and a “long-term reaction”.

All of this was in response to a Parades Commission determination which rerouted a very small section of a rather long return parade away from a nationalist area – an area that has suffered disproportionately from the ravages of unionist murder gangs during the conflict; an area that remains deeply scarred by the loyalist blockade of the local Holy Cross Primary School for 16 weeks in 2001.

This is but one of well over 3,000 parades by the loyal orders and loyalist band associations that will take place this year. A mere handful is contested.

It is difficult to identify a rationale for such a dogmatic and absolutist response and it’s all the more difficult to understand given the DUP’s position on parades in the Hillsborough talks in 2009/10. Within the agreement they recognised the need for a rights-based approach to parades and protests and the actuality of competing rights.

No rights engaged were absolute.

They also recognised the right for everyone to be free from sectarian harassment.

Such a rights-based approach raised expectations of a practical breakthrough for toxic issues that continue to undermine our political process. However, the DUP allowed the Orange Order to veto the agreement and the process collapsed.

Once again, the negative voices within the Orange Order, the PUP and the west Belfast UDA are pulling the strings of political unionism while ensuring that the political process is hostage to the fate of a narrow, sectarian parading agenda. Ultimatums have been agreed and delivered as they attempt to bully and intimidate the key state agencies into reversing the Twelfth return determination.

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‘Commission of Inquiry’

Their latest contribution to the debate is a demand for a “Commission of Inquiry” into events surrounding the Ardoyne Twelfth July return parade. Yet, depending upon which unionist/loyalist spokesperson you listen to, its difficult to discern exactly what this demand entails. They range from a narrow focus on the Ardoyne parade to a wider inquiry into the operation of the Parades Commission, which they seek to undermine. 

The 1998 Public Processions (NI) Act, the enabling legislation for the establishment of the current Parades Commission, has also come under criticism from political unionism. Apparently, the code of conduct and the set criteria which commissioners in their deliberations must have regard to are biased against the Protestant/unionist culture of parading while giving an inbuilt preference to protesters!

Their preference is clearly on deregulation, a yearning for a return to the halcyon days for the Orange Order, when they could parade where and when they liked.  This feeds into the mindset which views the right to peaceful assembly as being absolute and unqualified, at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of rights.

Since the 1998 Act, the British Government has pandered to unionist pressure and established two key reviews of their parading architecture.

The first was published in September 2002 by Sir George Quigley but was then rejected by the British Government.

The Strategic Review of Parading was established by the NIO in 2007, with former Liberal Democrats leader Paddy Ashdown as Chair. Its interim report outlined a proposal for the establishment of a Parades Commission Mark 2, adopting a rights-based approach with a strong code of conduct.

Last December, the Haass/O’Sullivan proposals on parading, while advocating the transfer of responsibility to the local administration, outlined a model broadly based on the current Parades Commission architecture.

So there is absolutely no requirement on the NIO to return to the well-worn path of parading reviews or inquiries once again.

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Moving forward

Sinn Féin indicated in their recent meeting with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers that they are prepared to investigate the concept of a route map outlined in this year’s Ardoyne Twelfth return parade determination which calls for a wider engagement on issues which impact upon parading.

A key requirement would entail that any ‘forum’ established would adopt a very tight terms of reference. This would ensure that it could not stray into the remits of other key political or engagement processes. In essence, it cannot become a vehicle to undermine the Parades Commission or genuine attempts to resolve the toxic issue of contested parades/protests.

We await the outcome of deliberations by the hierarchy of the Orange Order. What they clearly need to factor into their discussions is how demographics, political power and allegiances have shifted over the past 45 years.

Hopefully, current political reality will prevail. Supremacy is being replaced with equality, discrimination by mutual respect and parity of esteem. The state machine is no longer the preserve of the Orange Order or an instrument to service its agenda.

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