Sinn Féin launch initiative on parades issue
Sinn Féin held a press conference in Lurgan this morning (Thursday) to launch a major document relating to the issues of contentious marches, flags and emblems within Lurgan town centre.
The eight page document, entitled "Lurgan - creating equal/neutral space" was launched by the leader of the Sinn Féin Assembly grouping, John O'Dowd MLA, along with several of his party colleagues on Craigavon Borough Council.
A number of contentious loyalist marches take place in Lurgan each year which unduly heighten sectarian tensions and which, on a number of occasions in the past, have led to street conflict.
Earlier this year, PSNI officers assisted loyalists to erect flags throughout Lurgan's main commercial centre. The PSNI's actions are currently the subject of a Police Ombudsman's investigation.
The Sinn Féin document, which will be distributed to all traders and businesses, churches, political parties, civic leaders and other interested groups in the Lurgan area, contains Sinn Féin's proposals on how the issue of contentious marches, flags and emblems should be dealt with in the future.
Speaking at the launch, John O'Dowd MLA said, "Despite the 2006 loyalist marching season passing off with relative peace throughout the Six Counties, Lurgan once again was the centre of a number of deeply worrying and indeed deeply disappointing incidents. These involved sectarian attacks upon homes, individuals, and property, including Orange Halls. Fighting between young nationalists and unionists was also common place.
"We believe that much of this can be linked to ongoing Loyal Order and loyalist band parades in the town centre each year during late spring and throughout the summer which without doubt contribute to a rise in tensions in the town and wider district. Another significant factor is the bedecking of the town centre in loyalist bunting.
"Lurgan already faces tremendous challenges and competition as a result of the relative proximity of places like Rushmere Shopping Centre and other similar shopping areas. There are few who would disagree with the fact that Lurgan town centre is need of investment and regeneration in order to help counter those challenges and competition if the town is to progress economically. The Living Over The Shop Initiative, launched recently, is an indication of the potential which exists for economic development and encouraging investment
O'Dowd continued, "Indeed, the LOTS initiative is an indication of why it is essential to resolve those issues which act as deterrent to attracting people to the town centre. After all, what would be the point of converting properties above shops into living accommodation, if at least 50% of potential dwellers do not feel it is a safe or welcoming place to live."
His colleague and leader of the six-strong Sinn Féin grouping within Craigavon Borough Council, Cllr Michael Tallon added, "If Lurgan is to develop and build, if Lurgan is to benefit from a peace dividend, then it is vital that the problems created by sectarianism are faced up to, addressed and tackled.
"Obviously what we are proposing has to form part of an intensive, meaningful and genuine process of dialogue, if we are to resolve these difficulties and allow Lurgan town centre to prosper in the future.
"This is Sinn Féin's contribution to starting that process. The issues which face us can be effectively dealt with in our view. It will however require positive input from all civic, business, political and community leaders. The Loyal Orders will for the first time also have to step up to the mark." Cllr Tallon concluded, "It is our objective to see Lurgan become an equal/neutral space in which people can go about their normal everyday business without the fear of sectarian threat or harassment from any quarter."
Included among the Sinn Féin proposals are: Recognition that Loyal Order parades to the Church of Ireland and to the Cenotaph for important anniversaries such as the Somme should proceed with community agreement and without nationalist protest. This would require the Loyal Orders to enter into a process of dialogue with local nationalists andvice versa.
In reciprocation, Loyal Orders would voluntarily reroute other parades from the lower end of the town centre. The removal of loyalist paramilitary flags (UVF,YCV,UDA,LVF) from Loyal Order parades proceeding to either the Church or Cenotaph.
Lurgan town centre to become a flag free area.
Loyalist band parades restricted from parading past Carnegie Street and into the lower part of the town. ENDS