Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Ardoyne parade row: Escalation of tensions in no one's interest

The photograph that went global: A rioter is thrown off a police Land Rover by water cannon after trouble flared in the Woodvale area in 2013. Pic David Fitzgerald
The photograph that went global: A rioter is thrown off a police Land Rover by water cannon after trouble flared in the Woodvale area in 2013. Pic David Fitzgerald

Drew Nelson, the Orange Order's Grand Secretary, has talked of protests being peaceful and lawful. As a solicitor, he should be able to advise the order on what will meet the required legal standards.

It may be harder to stay grounded when you are being courted by politicians and the media but there is also a need for protests to be proportionate.

We must remember what is at stake here. It is a dispute between two relatively small groups in north Belfast over whether one can walk both ways along a half-mile stretch of road rather than one way only.

Even if we include the Order's handful of other complaints about opposition to its parades in places like Dungiven, Portadown and Strabane, the stakes are not that high. They are not high enough, for instance, to bring down the government to threaten the peace process.

To put things in perspective, there are less than 30,000 members in the Orange Order. Counting relatives and bands members, that is a considerable body of opinion, but it is nothing like the 290,407 people who voted for unionist parties in the European election, never mind the 636,093 who voted for parties of all kinds, or Northern Ireland's 1.8m inhabitants. This week everyone in Northern Ireland is waiting for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, which will probably have 130 or less in attendance, to decide how it proposes to disrupt their lives.

There is a distinct air of the tail wagging the dog as the First Minister – not to mention the leaders of the UUP, TUV and other unionist parties – awaits the Order's strategy.

There is already talk of the response reaching into government institutions. Perhaps we had a taste of it when the unionist-controlled Carrickfergus Council cancelled a community event when around 30 loyalists picketed against the attendance of Jennifer McCann, a Sinn Fein junior minister. Is this the sort of mean-spirited action we are likely to see more of after the Grand Lodge has met?

It is not worth undermining power-sharing like this. Raising tension and bitter begrudgery of this kind will not get the Orangemen down the Crumlin Road unfettered. The awkward truth is that only an agreement with nationalists and republicans can hope to achieve that.