Where now for the parades? Gerry Adams MP
Events of the last few weeks have brought into sharp focus two of the key issues that need to be addressed if there is to be political progress. These are the issues of policing and of contentious parades.
The decision of the PSNI to force a UDA parade through Ardoyne and its overturning of a Parades Commission determination in Lurgan illustrates the
unionist instinct of that organisation, its political agenda and the continuing absence of democratic accountability.
The issue of contentious parades and the wider issue of policing continues to throw into stark focus the very real difficulties which will have to be
resolved if there is to be a comprehensive resolution of all issues in September. There are 3000 loyal order parades each year. Problems arise where the Loyal Orders insist on parading through nationalist communities against the wishes of the local people.
The continued insistence on such parades and the refusal of the parading organisations to have direct dialogue with nationalist residents is an indication of the resistance within that section of unionism to the concepts of equality, dialogue and respect.
Recent events on the Springfield Road and Crumlin Road demonstrate this. In both cases the Parades Commission issued determinations, which did not meet
the wishes of the Orange Order. In response it issued threats of disruption and joined with the UUP and DUP and UDA and UVF to pressurise the Commission into reversing their decision.
On the Springfield Road the Parades Commission buckled under the combined pressure of unionism. The Commission rewarded intransigence, threat and intimidation. This was a slap in the face to nationalist residents.
The Orange Order tried the same tactics with the Crumlin Road march past Ardoyne and Mountainview. Unionists blockaded the small nationalist community of Ligoniel for 5 days, causing significant disruption and fear. The Orange Order issued statements, which could only be interpreted as veiled threats if they didn't get their way. Unionist politicians lobbied the British Secretary of State Paul Murphy.
And in the end a sordid deal was done by the NIO, to facilitate an anti catholic march by flag waving UDA supporters past nationalist homes on the Crumlin Road. This act was repeated the following day in Lurgan where the PSNI flagrantly disregarded the determination of the Parades Commission.
The lessons from all of this are clear. The British system in Ireland, represented primarily by the NIO, retains its instinctive affinity with and support for unionism. This results in the denial of the rights of nationalists. This is at the heart of the difficulties.
The approach of nationalist communities has been open and reasonable. Where local communities object to parades they have not been intransigent or inflexible. Rather they have stated their opposition and then offered dialogue to discuss and explore the possibility of resolving all the issues in a way that is mutually acceptable.
In the run up to the Springfield Road march a North and West Belfast Unionist/Loyalist Parades Forum was established involving unionist politicians, unionist paramilitaries and some members of the loyal orders. Coming so late in the day and in the absence of direct dialogue between the parade organisers and local residents this was widely perceived as a cosmetic exercise designed to convince the Parades Commission to overturn their initial decision on the Springfield Road.
Following the debacle in Ardoyne on July 12th, the Forum announced that it was willing to talk to nationalist residents but not before September. A number of very simple questions spring to mind:
- With more contentious parades due in Belfast in August, why is the forum delaying talks until September?
- Why does the Orange Order not have the confidence to engage in immediate direct discussions with local residents?
- And crucially, why do the loyal orders insist on walking through communities where they cause deep offence?
It is time for maturity from the Loyal Orders. They need to realise that the only possibility of a long-term solution is direct dialogue with nationalist residents. Unionist politicians should show political leadership on this issue. The willingness of the Loyal Orders, and, indeed, unionist politicians, to sit with unionist paramilitaries on the Parades Forum makes a mockery of their refusal to engage in dialogue with nationalists.
The two governments have announced that intensive talks are scheduled for September to address and resolve outstanding issues. It is now obvious that the issues of policing and the behaviour of the NIO must be high on that agenda of those discussions.
The actions of the PSNI over recent days have been a disgrace and have undermined entirely any argument that a new beginning to policing has been achieved. The lack of accountability and the impotence of the Policing Board have been dramatically exposed. The SDLP's policy on policing is in tatters as their local representatives face the reality that bad policing, sectarian policing hasn't gone away.
Nationalists want to see the parades issue resolved. Nationalists want to see the issue of policing resolved. This can only happen through open and honest dialogue which addresses these difficult issues.