Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Ham-fisted Garvaghy Road decision does not augur well

Orangemen pictured during a parade in Portadown in 2010
Orangemen pictured during a parade in Portadown in 2010

The new slimmed down Parades Commission had considerable goodwill when it was appointed by the Secretary of State in May. Since then it has failed to stamp its authority on an admittedly difficult situation and has given the impression of yielding to pressure.

Today, we highlight two instances. This month there were strong signals that three lodges and two bands would be allowed to pass the Ardoyne shops area as a symbolic completion of their march last 12th of July. The decision could have been justified on the grounds that the order had engaged in talks with residents and that a parade past St Patrick's church, another disputed route, had gone well.

At the last minute, on June 4, the commission took the opposite decision. It had been threatened with mass nationalist demonstrations if it did not do so and there was no agreement at the talks.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, the commission's perceived flip-flop was inept. It will pave the way for further pressure.

Just yesterday, the commission reversed its decision to allow Portadown Orangemen to march along a street in the general Garvaghy Road area. It will be hard to convince either the loyal orders or their opponents that this decision was based on reason alone. Earlier this year, the priest at St Patrick's church expressed satisfaction that, after talks, the order had agreed to play only hymn tunes passing the place of worship. Instead of going with this, the commission ordered that only a single drumbeat should be played. The logic for this was hard to see.

Yet the only way through the marching season is for Parades Commission decisions to be honoured and enforced by the police. That is the message we need from politicians and, if they don't like the situation, the answer is in their own hands.

They have spent years trying to agree an alternative means of regulating the very small number of disputed parades which blight each summer here.

Their failure is the backdrop to the mess that now seems to be unfolding this year. The uncertain touch of the current commission should spur the politicians on to agree something better when they meet in all-party talks next week.