Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has described the human, financial and political cost of the Orange Order’s obstinate insistence on marching through Catholic areas and their refusal to talk as “too high”.
With more contentious marches due later in the marching season Mr. Adams today called on the leaders of the various marching orders to meet with him and to “set aside past differences, demonstrate real courage and vision, and engage in dialogue with Sinn Féin and local host communities affected by marches.”
Mr Adams said: “It is time that the issue of contentious marches was finally resolved.
I am convinced that with good will and common sense we can succeed. And I believe that a dialogue between Sinn Féin and the loyal orders can reduce tensions and create a climate in which greater understanding can be encouraged.”
The Sinn Féin President said:
“The street conflict over the 12th was largely a result of a small number of so-called dissident groups exploiting the tensions and fears surrounding Orange marches. Sinn Féin’s opposition to these groups is unequivocal and a matter of public record.
However, the fact remains that it is the loyal orders obstinate insistence on marching through Catholic areas and their refusal to talk that is at the heart of the perennial violence that marks the marching season.
No accurate financial cost has been placed on this years violence but in a reply to an Assembly question the PSNI estimated that the cost of policing the parades for the period June to August last year was around £2,899,770; the vast majority of these costs would have been incurred policing LOL, Black and Apprentice Boys parades.
More recently in 2005 the policing of the controversial Orange parade to the Whiterock Loyal Orange Lodge on the Springfield Road in
West Belfast and the subsequent rioting alone cost £3 million sterling. On that occasion eighty-two people were arrested, twelve weapons were recovered and ninety-three police officers were injured.
This year several police officers were shot, a police woman was severely injured after being hit by a concrete slab, and scores more were hurt during the rioting. Local residents were attacked by rioters and cars and vehicles stolen and destroyed. Some young people were also injured in disputed circumstances by plastic bullets.
The financial cost of the disturbances for 2010 will clearly run into millions and this will be paid for out of the limited resources available to the Executive.
At a time when frontline services are being cut and more cuts are threatened; when schools cannot be built because there is no money, and accident and emergency services are being slashed, and jobs are being lost, the financial cost of contentious parades for society is too high. Also the Chief Constable is now required to make significant cuts in the policing budget.
In addition the media reports, photographs and negative television imagery which are reproduced around the world do incalculable damage to our efforts to attract inward investment.
This unresolved problem also has a huge adverse impact on the loyal orders. In recent years they have spent time and effort and money in trying to rebrand the marching season as ‘Orangefest’. All of that is lost in the confrontations and violence around a very few number of marches.
This is a self inflicted wound which has to stop. There are almost 4000 loyal order parades each year. The vast majority pass peacefully. Only a handful result in violence.
Surely it is not beyond the wit and intelligence of all of us to find a resolution which can bring this to end. The proposals brought forward by Sinn Féin and the DUP are a means to do this which respects the rights of the marching orders and the rights of host communities.
In early May I wrote to the leaders of the main loyal orders and asked to meet them to discuss all of these matters. They have not yet replied.
I understand the difficulties that all of this presents for the Orange. But I believe that the vast majority of citizens want us to find a peaceful resolution to the marching issue.
Today, I am appealing again to these leaders to meet with me.
I am asking that they set aside past differences, demonstrate real courage and vision, and engage in dialogue with Sinn Féin and local host communities affected by marches.
It is time that the issue of contentious marches was finally resolved.
I am convinced that with good will and common sense we can succeed. And I believe that a dialogue between Sinn Féin and the loyal orders can reduce tensions and create a climate in which greater understanding can be encouraged.” ENDS