Saturday, February 13, 2010

Talks take us no further down the road on parades

Talks take us no further down the road on parades

For all the talk of high politics at Hillsborough, the parades issue will be decided on the streets of Belfast and Portadown, says Brian Rowan

Friday, 12 February 2010 – Belfast Telegraph

Listening to the marching debate, I wonder if the politicians are walking and talking on the same page. That working group established at Stormont might well be able to design a new framework to talk about and consider and rule on parades. That is the easy bit.

You can change the title of the Parades Commission - call it something else.

You can do more on mediation and place a greater emphasis on local dialogue.

But the questions are still the same, and, after all the talking, answers and attitudes may well be the same.

Changing a process is easy - changing minds will prove much more difficult.

There are roads here that will not be shared. And there are places where Orange marches will not be welcome, no matter what process is used to rule on parades.

This is the reality that has to be part of this new discussion.

We have a high politics and a high peace.

An end to violence was achieved in the orders given by the IRA and loyalist leaderships.

Deal-making has been achieved at the highest political level. But there is a massive piece of work to be done on the ground - and that will not be achieved in two weeks, two months or two years.

Some in the DUP have talked about this new process having to deliver progress on the ground, and have talked about the 'symbolic importance' of Drumcree.

There has not been a march on the Garvaghy Road since 1997 - and there may never be a march there again.

Sinn Fein cannot deliver one, is not minded to deliver one, so it comes down to Orangemen persuading residents.

Thirteen years after the last parade, is it realistic to expect that they can do that?

The marching of 1996 and 1997 was delivered in massive security operations and at a huge cost - not just financial.

In the eyes of the nationalist and republican communities the RUC were on the side of the marching orders, doing their work, making their parades possible.

It would be madness to put the PSNI in that position. New policing would be destroyed.

The DUP is looking for something on parades to balance up the Hillsborough deal - the quid pro quo for the date for the devolution of policing and justice powers.

But they may well have chosen the wrong issue at the wrong time.

In the past some marches - particularly those in north and west Belfast - were made possible by the efforts of the IRA, the UDA and the UVF.

On one occasion, senior republicans put themselves in front of an angry crowd to save the lives of soldiers.

Over the years, the IRA and loyalists have been left to tidy up some of the mess around parades and, on other occasions, they have been part of the mess around parades.

Walking this issue into the heart of politics here has all the potential to open up old marching sores.

That walk past Ardoyne is never going to be easy - and nor is a march on the Garvaghy Road.

In the past, republicans asserted their authority in some places, not because they wanted to see a march pass, but because they wanted to protect a fragile peace.

And on different roads at different times, loyalists have had to try to control an angry crowd.

There are no easy answers when it comes to this issue, and there are no guarantees.

You can ask the different sides in this marching dispute to talk, but you can't make them talk and you cannot impose outcomes.

So, what does that mean? It means that at the end of all of this talking we may be no further down the road in trying to find an answer to contentious marches. And it may also mean that rather than walking through, in some places the Orange Order may have to walk away.

For all the day-to-day talking at Stormont, the questions and answers are on the ground, below that high peace and high politics.


It certainly was good news this past week when the political parties in the North were able to hammer out an “eleventh hour agreement” to prevent the collapse of the N.I. Assembly. Sometimes however, agreements made in theory prove very difficult to put into actual practice. Also, problems as deep rooted and convoluted as those associated with Orange Order parades are not easily solved in accordance with time limits imposed by politicians. In this case, the politicians themselves were under a great deal of pressure to come to agreement on the devolution of policing and justice powers from London to Stormont. Immediate reaction from Nationalist communities where these contentious Orange Order parades take place would suggest that the time limits imposed by the Hillsborough Agreement are simply not realistic. Hopefully, this agreement, if nothing else, will begin dialogue on reaching a resolution of the contentious parades issue. Only time will tell.

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