9 December 1999 Edition

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Nationalists demand a true mediation process

The third of a series of conferences aimed at challenging sectarianism and loyal order parades was held in Lisnaskea last weekend.

``From what I have seen, there has not been any mediation process.'' The words of Maria Volpe, lecturer at the John Jay College in New York and expert in conflict resolution, summed up the conclusions of the third of a series of conferences organised by various concerned residents groups.

Saturday's conference, attended by over 70 people from over 10 counties, was placed under the banner ``Resolving the marching conflict - between conflict resolution and political expediency''.

Her comments clearly referred to the so-called mediation attempt the British government has been involved in, particularly in regard to the situation in Portadown. Audrey O'Carroll, from mediation Ireland, echoed her comments. ``The third party involved in a mediation has to have no vested power or interests in the process and must not therefore pre-empt its outcome,'' she said. It could not be left to the British government, who fire plastic bullet at nationalist residents, to try and mediate the dispute.

Maria Volpe also said that one of the pillars of a good mediation was an engagement with the other party ``in good faith''. ``Conflicts are often born within a given context and not in a vacuum, she added. Confronted with a problem, certain groups can adopt tactics that range from avoidance to annihilation and confrontation. In the latter case, this can lead to intimidation, anxiety and can even result in injury.'' Clearly, the Orange and loyal Orders have worked all tactics.

Robbie McVeigh, speaking from a personal perspective, said that the problem is that so-called cultural traditions such as that of the Orange Order can be reinvented to make them acceptable. ``But a culture of Kill all Taigs, Kill all Catholics is not a cultural tradition, but a political culture, just like genocide is.''

Robbie added that in the case of the so-called mediation attempts, the British government has been engaged in a pacification and ``containment'' exercise rather than a genuine effort based on reconciliation, equality and justice.

Gerard Rice from the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community added that his group had been involved in a genuine exercise of dialogue and good faith that backfired. The Parades Commission was described as a body set-up to facilitate sectarian and racist parades. ``We were pressing for dialogue against closed door. But the worse thing is that when the door finally opens, we find that there are major imbalances in representation''.

The situation has only worsened with the establishment of a local government. A Unionist Orange First minister, flanked by a security minister who was once a member of a junior Orange Lodge in Scotland, and a civil service composed of senior Orange Order members and involved in the drafting of plans to force the parade in Portadown. Add to that the weight of the British government, the RUC and the Parades Commission. More than ever, the residents groups find themselves isolated and marginalised. Fears are rising that it is only a matter of time before a march is forced down the Garvaghy Road.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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