15 May 2003 Edition

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Trimble targets Parades Commission


The nationalist community in the Six Counties, particularly in the most directly affected areas, has always insisted that the question of contested Orange marches should be considered as an issue independent of the wider political process or negotiations. The right to live free from sectarian harassment, they argue, is an absolute one, and should not have to be negotiated for or bartered in exchange for other, equally absolute rights, such as, for example, equality under the law.

In setting up the Parades Commission in 1997 after the murderous violence perpetrated the previous year by members and supporters of the Orange Order when the the Drumcree march was banned, and the RUC brutality against the residents of the Garvaghy Road when it was forced through, the British government, implicitly at least, acknowledged that decisions about marches could not be trusted to openly partisan Chief Constables and politicians. Despite their deep reservations - particularly about some of the appointments to the Commission - nationalists agreed to abide by its decisions and their protests against those many marches permitted to go through nationalist areas, despite the accompanying intimidation both by police and loyalists, have been peaceful. They continued to uphold their side of the bargain even when the residents of the Garvaghy Road were so publicly betrayed by the then British Secretary of State Mo Mowlem.

Not so unionism, loyalism and Orangeism. Apart from the Apprentice Boys in Derry, the loyal orders have continued in their bone-headed refusal to negotiate with residents' associations or indeed anyone else they don't like, including the Commission itself. Every decision not to allow their marches has been accompanied by threatened and actual loyalist violence, and increasingly strident demands from David Trimble that the Commission be abolished.

Now, egged on by the worst elements within his party and forever fearful of his position, Trimble has made another assault on the Commission, with the annual sinister suggestion that, if the Orange Order's demand to flaunt its sectarianism is not acceded to, violence will be the inevitable outcome.

"It is now firmly established that the Parades Commission must be removed and replaced with a fair and impartial rights based determining body," he said last week, before issuing dire warnings about "confrontation" this summer.

Firmly established by whom, we may ask? The residents of the affected areas? Absolutely not. Trimble was referring to the "review" carried out last year by the former head of Ulster Bank, Sir George Quigley, under instruction from the British government and at the behest of Trimble himself. Unionism had really had the Commission in its sights since its ruling in 2001, when it castigated the Orange Order in Portadown in no uncertain terms for its continued refusal to speak to the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition and refused permission for the march to go ahead.

The demand for a review was part of the continued attempts by the UUP to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement and resulted in the recommendation that, as Trimble demanded, the Parades Commission be abolished. The GRRC, despite its opposition to the review, nevertheless made a detailed submission to Quigley in June 2002, setting out its position and offering a number of carefully thought-out recommendations. Quigley ignored them, suggesting instead the creation of two separate bodies with mediation and arbitration roles.

As has consistently been the case since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the nationalist community is being told by unionism that it must trade off - or simply sacrifice - great chunks of the rights to which it is entitled in order to pacify the most reactionary, sectarian constituencies of the UUP, the DUP and their associated paramilitary groupings. If it does not, it is implied, violence against Catholics will inevitably increase, although Unionism cannot be expected to bear any responsibility, or incur any political penalty, for inciting and tolerating such violence.

What Trimble means by "fair and impartial" of course, is that the British government should create a body fundamentally under the control of unionism and entirely amenable to the demands placed upon it by the Orange Order and their cohorts and which, most importantly, allows the Drumcree march - indeed all Orange marches - to proceed unimpeded. Any decision that falls short of these demands will no doubt provide another very useful reason for Trimble to refuse to return to devolved government.

An Phoblacht
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