Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Address by Belfast republican Sean Murray to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on Friday 17th on the issue of parades

17 February, 2006

The issue of contentious Loyal Order and band parades has been with us for a long time now, since the end of the 18th century with the establishment of the Orange Order itself.

It is an issue which has negative and dangerous connotations for our struggle which can manifest itself in various ways and means for example that it retains the potential to undermine and frustrate the dynamics of both the Peace Process and our own political project.

It undermines the potential to develop qualitatively our outreach programme to the Unionist community.

It undermines the potential to develop cross-community dialogue, especially in relation to social and economic issues and subsequent identification of common issues, interests, concerns and priorities for working class communities irrespective of their political orientation.

And finally it feeds and sustains the stranglehold of sectarianism over our country by the Loyal Orders insistence on their absolute right to march wherever they like as a means of demonstrating Unionist ascendancy in the Orange State.

Accordingly, we need to develop and maintain a keen focus on the issue and initiate strategies to deal with and diffuse the issue on a permanent basis.

It is obvious that it is our strategic interest to promote and encourage a meaningful process of engagement between Loyal Orders parade organizers and local residents across the Six Counties.

This clearly coincides with the aspirations of local residents groups who have patiently articulated it for a number of years now. They view meaningful dialogue as the key to unlocking the prospect of local accommodations with local Lodges and Bands around the outstanding issues of route, size of the parade, Loyalist flags, uniforms and emblems and the playing of sectarian tunes by Loyalist Bands.

Over the past twelve months clear evidence has emerged of a move to engage from the Orange Order at local level, we witnessed face-to-face negotiations for the first time in Derry and west Belfast last summer. This process and other individual and group engagements have allowed us to ascertain progressive individuals within the Loyal Order who genuinely want to reach an accommodation with the host communities.

We must promote this development and appeal to all like minded individuals within both the Loyal Orders themselves and the Unionist community in general to acknowledge and partake in this process in the knowledge that it is in all of our interests to do so.

To put this issue in context there are just over 3,000 parades annually in the Six Counties. Only a handful are contentious. They are located mainly in areas which have experienced major demographic change over the past 40 years of struggle. Areas, which were formerly unionist in make-up but which now house a substantial nationalist majority.

The Loyal Orders need to acknowledge and respond to this reality. On the other hand Republicans need to support and encourage residents groups in their public desire to meet this challenge and negotiate an accommodation acceptable to both communities.

This will ultimately benefit all traditions and help create an environment conducive to a marked reduction in sectarian tensions and the development of cross-community engagement in many working class areas.

It will also benefit in no small way our outreach programme, as this issue features in many of our discussions with our Unionist counterparts.

Any progressive movement on the parades issue will undoubtedly assist us in our desire for a qualitative engagement with Unionists on a wide range of issues of reverence to the struggle.

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