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17 February 2000 Edition

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British fast track Orange agenda

BY LAURA FRIEL

The British government's new appointments to the Parades Commission, announced on Wednesday, 16 February, have been slammed by Sinn Féin Upper Bann Assembly member Dara O'Hagan.

     
The new Parades Commission will not have a single woman and only one token nationalist
She said it is ``quite clear that the makeup of the Commission is not representative of the whole community. She said the British had worked hand in glove with the unionists to try to unravel the Good Friday Agreement: ``Here we can see that strategy continued with the British government refusing to honour its commitment to equality in the Six Counties. This has been emphasised by the selection of a Commission which will not contain a single woman and only one token nationalist.''

She added that the appointments, coupled with media reports that the British government is fast-tracking legislation to allow Orangemen down the Garvaghy Road, ``shows that the British governent is deliberately trying to undo all the work which has been done in trying to create a peaceful resolution to the situation in Portadown and the larger situation in the Six Counties''.

     
There are also fears that new British legislation would allow the Parades Commission to rule in favour of allowing sectarian marches to proceed through nationalist areas
And it is a sad irony that the British government's rush to fast track part of the Human Rights Act, scheduled to be introduced in full this October, is designed to promote the imposition of sectarian marches through nationalist areas. Reports suggesting that the British government may introduce Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which covers the right to free assembly, came as Portadown Orangemen gathered at Drumcree to renew their demand to march through the nationalist Garvaghy Road.

The move will allow Orangemen to challenge in court any unfavourable decisions by the Parades Commission. There are also fears that the legislation would allow the Parades Commission to rule in favour of allowing sectarian marches to proceed through nationalist areas despite opposition from local residents and without the promotion of local dialogue.

Sinn Féin described the British government's decision as an attempt to subvert the human right of residents to live ``free from sectarian harassment'' as enshrined by the Good Friday Agreement. ``It shows the extent to which a British government will go in order to placate Unionism and the Orange Order at the expense of human rights and equality of treatment for nationalists,'' said Sinn Féin Human Rights spokesperson Mary Nelis.

Nelis described the move as ``totally unacceptable'' given the anti nationalist bias of the Northern judiciary. It was an attempt to legitimise the forcing of supremacist anti Catholic marches through areas where residents oppose them, she said. ``The fact that the British government did not even consult with the Human Rights Commission before making this decision only serves to highlight the duplicitous nature of its decision.''

The Human Rights Commission has confirmed that it was not consulted and has described the British Government's decision as ``surprising and disappointing''. Chief Commissioner Brice Dickson said the commission was ``gravely concerned'' that the decision to introduce the act had been taken without recourse to the advice of the Human Rights Commission.

``The Human Rights Commission was established as a result of the Belfast Agreement and is a key feature of a commitment to the development of a just and fair society for everyone,'' said Dickson. ``It is therefore important that it's statutory position is respected in terms of consultation prior to legislation being introduced.''

Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition spokesperson Breandan Mac Cionnaith accused the British government of ``messing about with the legislation to placate unionists.'' The move followed lobbying by Unionist Leader and Orange Order member David Trimble in favour of the unilateral introduction of Article 11.

Sinn Féin's Dara O'Hagan has accused the Orange Order of attempting to ``heighten tension and re invigorate their siege of the Garvaghy Road.'' She made her comments followed Tuesday night's Orange protest and the Order's threat to escalate their protests in the coming weeks and months.

``The Orange Order seem to believe that by re invigorating their siege of the people of the Garvaghy Road they will be able to force a march through the area,'' she said. ``After all these fruitless months of protesting, the Orange Order still has not come to realisation that face to face dialogue with the residents of the Garvaghy Road is the only way to solve this problem.''

Dialogue remains the key but it seems Orangemen are still unwilling to treat nationalist residents with any respect or consideration. A recent attempt by the mediation network to establish contact was thwarted by the Order, which refused to negotiate with Garvaghy Road Residents because they did not wish to show ``unwarranted respect to unworthy opponents''.

The one nationalist appointee to the new parades body is former GAA president Peter Quinn. He is no stranger to the parades issue having acted as a mediator when the British government brought Portadown Orangemen and Garvaghy Road residents together for talks before last year's Drumcree march.

But despite Quinn's appointment, nationalist politicians have criticised the lack of nationalist or Catholic representation on the body.

It was reported during the week that several Catholics had turned down the offer of joining the commission as they were unwilling to become the ``token Taig'' on a predominantly unionist body. Two former Catholic members have not been reappointed. Rose Ann McCormick, a former member of the discredited police authority, has decided to withdraw from the commission. Aiden Canavan, a Catholic solicitor, applied for the chairperson's position but was unsuccessful.

The Parade Commission's membership includes English lawyer Tony Holland as chair and members John Cousins and Peter Osbourne of the Alliance Party, County Down farmer Bill Martin, Presbyterian minister Roy Magee and recently retired Judge John Pringle.
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